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1 



The South African National Council 
for the Blind was established in 
Cape Town on 20 March 1929 and it 
celebrates its Golden Jubilee this 
year. This commemorative issue 
relates the history of the origin and 
growth of this viable organization 
which during the past 50 years has 
built up a truly effective system for 
the rendering of service to the 
visually handicapped of all 
population groups in the country. 

The National Council is basically 
a co-ordinating body to which 35 
organizations are affiliated. Each 
one of these serves the blind 
population of its area in its own 
particular way. This includes, inter 
alia, the provision of social services, 
employment opportunities, library 
services, rehabilitation services, 
literature in braille and on tape, 
mobility instruction, education, 
training, guidance, recreational and 
sporting facilities, and the like. The 
majority of these efforts started in a 
small and humble way, a few even 
before the establishment of the 
National Council. With regard to 
this, Mr Theo Pauw, Chairman of 
the National Council, writes as 
follows in the Foreword to the 
book: 

This historical account not only 
covers the first half-century of 
the existence of the National 
Council and its activities, but 
also fakes the reader a century 
back to the first efforts made on 
behalf of the blind in this 
country. It is indeed a 
commendable story which 
gradually unfolded as a result of 
Christian compassion and 
humane involvement on the one 
hand and unwavering faith, 
practical acumen and 



lor the Blind 

York, Ne« Vork 



■0~ 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2015 



https://archive.org/details/fiftyyearsofservOObyvh 



FIFTY 
YEARS OF SERVICE 



1929-1979 

THE STORY OF THE 
SOUTH AFRICAN 
NATIONAL COUNCIL 
FOR THE BLIND 

by 

V. H. VAUGHAN 

Translated from the original Afrikaans by Lulu Vaughan 



EDITORIAL 

COMMITTEE: 

P. P. PEACH 

THEO PAUW 

G.S.SCHERMBRUCKER 



PUBLISHED BY 

THE S.A. NATIONAL COUNCIL 
FOR THE BLIND 



PRETORIA 1979 



This book is dedicated to those whose selfless 
service is recorded in this history 



0, ek wens ek kon die blare se musiek volledig betas 
of die donderende see met my long besoek 
of die blou lug in my handpalm hou 

— William Rowland 

from: Die huis waar ek woon 
(The House where I Live) 
(Tafelberg) 



CONTENTS 



Foreword i 

About the Author v 

Introduction ix 

1 The Initial Phase 1 

2 Co-ordination and Foundation 32 

3 Early Years and Legislation (1929 - 1936) 60 

4 First Years after Legislation (1936 - 1940) 88 

5 Last Years of the Bowen Era (1941 - 1948) 109 

6 Robert Walter Bowen (1888 - 1948) 134 

7 A New Organization Pattern I (1949 - 1961) 146 

8 A New Organization Pattern II (1949 - 1961) 176 

9 Consolidation and Further Development I (1961 - 1979) 211 

10 Consolidation and Further Development II (1961 - 1979) 238 

11 Prevention of Blindness 275 

12 Divisions for Indian and Coloured Blind 313 

13 Four Chairmen and Two Presidents 343 

14 Affiliated and Associated Bodies 384 
Addendum 455 
Index 464 



Advocate Robert Walter Bowcn, M.P. founder- member of the SA National Council for the Blind 
and first Chairman 1929-1948. 



FOREWORD 



This book appears in the Golden Jubilee year of the South African 
National Council for the Blind. It is therefore a commemorative issue, 
although it comprises much more. It presents the interested reader 
with a review of the establishment and development of a viable welfare 
organization, but it is also the warm human narrative of a community 
which cares for the handicapped in its midst and which at the same 
time aspires to give them full opportunity to become part of the com- 
munity, and to respect their right of existence on every level. 

This historical account not only covers the first half- century of the 
existence and activities of the National Council, but also takes the 
reader back a century to the first efforts made on behalf of the blind in 
this country. It is indeed a moving story which gradually unfolded as a 
result of Christian compassion and humane involvement on the one 
hand and unwavering faith, practical acumen and perseverance on the 
other. The beginning of virtually every single undertaking was very 
modest, the odds against success were sometimes overwhelming, 
growth came gradually, but the fruits were richly rewarding. 

The question may be asked what the community expects with regard 
to the education, training and general rehabilitation of the blind. A 
satisfactory answer cannot be given without involving the blind them- 
selves. It does not only concern the social conscience and the prevailing 
norms of a civilized world at a particular time. It concerns a handi- 
capped person, his self-image and his personal aspirations, his right to 
complete self-realisation as an individual amongst individuals. It does 
not entail mere charity and benevolence in order to cheer and encour- 
age a handicapped person. It concerns fair and reasonable opportuni- 
ties for the individual to rise above his limitations and to become a 
contributing member of the community by virtue of his determination 
and potential for achievement; not on account of what he lacks, but as 
a result of his inherent competence and character. 

The history of services to the blind is therefore closely woven into 



i 



the story of the bhnd and their participation in, and contribution to 
the aspirations of the community. There is abundant evidence in the 
pages of this chronicle of the highly satisfactory and most fruitful part- 
nership between the blind and the sighted in the gradual establishment 
of a better dispensation for the visually handicapped of South Africa. 

After a century of service and fifty years of purposeful merging of re- 
sources, certain questions will naturally arise with those who today 
work together for the common cause. Where do we stand with regard 
to the proclaimed objectives of pioneers. What has been achieved since 
their first praiseworthy efforts. Do we possess the required imagin- 
ation, adaptability and vision to reformulate the task in the light of the 
new trends, new circumstances and new approaches.^ Do we take suf- 
ficient cognisance of the demands, the challenges and the opportuni- 
ties which a new era entails. And what should we do with regard to the 
considerable deficiencies which have to a greater or lesser extent been 
identified, and which show that blind persons are in many respects not 
yet enabled to turn to full account the opportunities to which they are 
entitled. 

Another cardinal question concerns the financing and adminis- 
tration of services to the handicapped in general, and the visually 
handicapped in particular. In South Africa as well as in many other 
countries a commendable system of partnership has developed be- 
tween the State and private efforts. Services are often provided by the 
State, but also originate spontaneously with individuals and groups in 
the community. This type of private initiative can as a rule be assured 
of State assistance, dependent on certain conditions. However, these 
services are extended, become more sophisticated, require more per- 
sonnel, greater professional skill and advanced technology. The pres- 
sure on the voluntary private sector to contribute its own share of the 
expenses is rapidly increasing. There are limits to this source of finan- 
cial assistance. There will have to be a new look at the role of the State 
and its financial participation in welfare services which, from the na- 
ture of things, would have been its full responsibility had voluntary ef- 
forts on the part of the public been lacking. 

The S.A. National Council for the Blind expresses its thanks to the 
writer who has been connected with the Council and the field in which 
it operates for five decades. As the author of this book he could not do 
justice to his own immense contribution to the development of the ser- 
vices which were the subject of his research. He enjoys the continued 



ii 



appreciation of all who are concerned with this field of endeavour, and 
who know him as a knowledgeable and indefatigable worker and a 
trusty colleague. 

THEO PAUW 
CHAIRMAN 

S.A. NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR THE BLIND 

WORCESTER 
MAY, 1979 



iii 



ABOUT THE 
AUTHOR 

BY THEO PAUW 

Dr Victor Hugo Vaughan is one 
of the most well-known persona- 
lities on the scene of activities for 
and with the blind in South Af- 
rica. His own role is not suffi- 
ciently apparent in this book. It 
deserves wider recognition and 
greater apprectiation than that 
which the writer assumes for him- 
self 

After completing his school career at Swellendam he qualified as a 
teacher at the University of Stellenbosch and obtained the degrees of 
B.A. and B. Ed. After four years on the staff of an ordinary school at 
McGregor he accepted a post in 1931 as vice-principal of the School 
for the Blind at Worcester where he excelled as a teacher and an 
acknowledged authority on braille. Amongst other things he was re- 
sponsible for the in-service training of the teaching staff, and took the 
initial steps in connection with the education of partially sighted chil- 
dren. 

From April 1950 to June 1954 he was Principal of the School for the 
Physically Handicapped at Kimberley; after that (1954 - 1958) Prin- 
cipal of the Trans- Oranje School for the Deaf in Pretoria, and subse- 
quently Inspector of Education (Special Schools) from 1958 to 1965. 
After his retirement from the Department of Education, Arts and 
Science he was on the staff of the University of South Africa as a senior 
lecturer in Orthopaedagogics for 10| years on a permanent, and a 
further 4 years on a part-time basis. In this capacity he made an endur- 
ing contribution in connection with the training of personnel for spe- 
cial education. Not only did he lay the foundation for this new service 
but also personally conducted the courses in connection with the edu- 
cation of the blind and the partially sighted. 




Dr V. H. Vaughan 



1 

V 



During 52j years of service on the educational scene he left a deep 
impression in many fields. Under his guidance the first blind pupils 
passed the matriculation examination at the Worcester School for the 
Blind in 1943. He also assisted the first blind students at Worcester 
with their university studies. One of his most important tasks, carried 
out with ingenuity and scientific accuracy, was the devising of the stan- 
dardised system for Afrikaans braille in collaboration with the Afri- 
kaans Braille Committee, appointed by the Department of Union Edu- 
cation. This work, which was started in 1932, continued until 1938 
when the first systematic manual appeared. In 1941 he devised a system 
for Afrikaans braille shorthand and later introduced a course in braille 
shorthand and advanced typewriting at the School. 

His first overseas study tour took place during those years. In 1947 
he successfully completed the course of training for teachers of the 
blind at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, U.S.A., and 
also attended additional vacation courses in other centres. From 1951 
to 1972 he undertook five more journeys to Europe and the U.S.A. 
with the object of attending conferences and engaging in study tours 
Amongst other things, he was a co-founder of the World Braille Coun- 
cil in Paris in 1951. 

His wide experience and acknowledged expertise led to his appoint- 
ment to several investigatory and advisory committees over the years. 
The list is impressive: 

Educational facilities for the partially sighted (1958) 
Vocational training for deaf Blacks (1960) 
Vocational training for blind Blacks (1960) 
Tape Aids for the Blind (1965) 
Educability of Chronically Sick Children (1967) 
Expansion of Educational Facilities for White Blind (1967) 
Training of Teachers for blind and deaf Blacks (1970) 
Investigation into Braille Production Units (1977) 
Subject Committee for Special Education in the Department of 
Education and Training in respect of cripples, the cerebral pal- 
sied, the blind and the deaf 
On the international scene he was a member of the Executive Com- 
mittee of the International Council for the Education of Blind Youth 
(I.C.E.B.Y.) from 1962 to 1967, and a member of the editorial commit- 
tee of the organization's publication. The Educator. 

Dr Vaughan has played a leading role within the framework of the 



vr 



South African National Council for the Blind. Together with Mr (later 
Dr) P.E. Biesenbach he attended the first biennial meeting in 1931, and 
presented papers from 1939 to 1946. In 1948 he was elected a member 
of the Executive Commmitee, in which capacity he has continued to 
serve uninterruptedly for more than 30 years. He has periodically 
served on practically all committees and sub-committees of the Coun- 
cil, and has worked in collaboration with Dr Walter Cohen and others 
in connection with the devising of braille systems for the languages of 
the Black population groups in the Republic. From 1966 to 1974 he 
was Vice-Chairman of the Council. 

Dr Vaughan has been a frequent contributor to professional jour- 
nals and was much sought after as a speaker at conferences and other 
gatherings. 

It is impossible to do justice in this short space to the extent and 
meaning of his role in the interests of the handicapped. He avoids the 
limelight and has repeatedly declined honorary positions on important 
bodies, as he prefers to be free to deliver his contribution sponta- 
neously from the floor. He participates in debates with discretion, and 
his well-balanced judgement at all times carries weight in conference 
halls. Owing to his good-natured disposition he makes friends easily in 
the divergent circles in which he moves. He states his convictions in a 
forthright but restrained manner. His calm leadership, strong intellec- 
tual gifts, wide knowledge of human nature and keen sense of humour 
have over the years been of inestimable value to the National Council 
for the Blind and to the many other bodies on which he has served, 
and still serves. 

Dr Vaughan is first and last instance an educationist. His lasting in- 
fluence on his ex-pupils and his knowledge of blindness and blind per- 
sons has become proverbial. In the execution of his life-work he has 
always been ably and faithfully assisted by his wife. In every walk of life 
they are a well-liked couple. With the ready humour which characte- 
rises the relationship between him and his blind ex-pupils and friends, 
he is described by them as an "honorary blind person." 

Three important and well deserved awards have been made to him 
in his later years: the medal of the S.A. Blind Workers Organization in 
1967 ; the R.W. Bowen Medal for Meritorious Services to the Blind, be- 
stowed by the S.A. National Council for the Blind in 1974; and the de- 
gree of Doctor Educationis (Honoris Causa) conferred by the Univer- 
sity of South Africa in 1973. 



vii 



His name will always be associated with the first half century of the 
history of the South African National Council for the Blind. It is ap- 
propriate that he has been able to round off his fruitful and colourful 
career in our memorable jubilee year with the completion of this impor- 
tant ^md absorbing history of the Council. 



viii 



INTRODUCTION 

In order to compile this history of the South African National Council 
for the Blind, a great deal of research work had to be done. The senior 
officials of the head-office of the Council and of the Divisions, as well 
as of the affiliated societies which I visited, rendered valuable assis- 
tance in placing the desired documents at my disposal and in supplying 
the required information. Their co-operation is deeply appreciated. 

It was also necessary to obtain verbal information from several 
people who in the past were involved with the National Council. I wish 
to thank them for granting me hours of interviews in order to record 
their valuable statements and comments on tape. 

Other indispensable sources of information which could not be ob- 
tained elsewhere, were the books of newspaper-cuttings kept by per- 
sons who were involved in the work in the early days. The first I wish to 
mention is the book of cuttings about Adv. R. W. Bowen, started by 
Mrs Bowen and continued by Miss A. Gillies. Mrs Agnes Scherm- 
brucker compiled one on the Cape Town Civilian Blind Society. The 
third was the very valuable book of cuttings on the S.A. Library for the 
Blind and the weal and woe of its readers supplied by Miss Mary Spurl- 
ing. I wish to thank the abovementioned persons who placed their 
books at my disposal. 

I wish to mention another source in printed form, namely the News- 
letter of the Council which was later changed to Imfama. From this I 
obtained an immense amount of data and information about people 
and their activities as well as of developments which took place at 
societies "~ amounting to a practically complete coverage of what was 
happening in the world of the blind in South Africa. Imfama also 
proved to be a controlling source for facts and dates. For this I wish to 
thank the editor of Imfama, Dr Walter Cohen. 

In connection with the writing of the book and its publication in 
both official languages, I wish to thank Mrs L. A. Vaughan who did the 
translation from the original Afrikaans into English. She is com- 



ix 



mended for her perseverance in bringing such an immense task to 
completion. I also wish to specially thank the two language revisors 
namely Mr Theo Pauw for the revision of the Afrikaans, and Mr J. R. 
Solms for the revision of the English text. Their penetrative and critical 
approach is highly appreciated. The writer also wishes to thank them 
for valuable suggestions in connection with the contents. 

My sincere thanks are offered to the Editorial Committee who, from 
the time of their appointment by the Executive Committee, assisted me 
with advice, and kept a watchful eye on the progress of the book. They 
are: 

Mr. P. P. Peach (convener), Mr Theo Pauw and Mr G. S. Scherm- 
bucker. 

In conclusion I wish to express my appreciation to those members 
of the staff of head-office who were burdened with the routine work. 
Firstly I wish to mention Mrs H. C. MacCale, Secretary of Council, 
whom I often interrupted at the most awkward times to unearth docu- 
ments which have long since fallen into obscurity in the musty archives 
of the National Council; then also my gratitude to Mrs V. H. Pond 
who typed the English and Mrs C. G. Phillips the Afrikaans texts of the 
manuscript. The accuracy, neatness and speed with which the work was 
done, is much appreciated. 

In compiling this book I was constantly mindful of those early pio- 
neers, some of whom I knew well, who helped to shape the history of 
the S.A. National Council for the Blind and who are not with us today. 
To them we offer our thanks and pay our homaee. 



The Author 




XI 




xii 



CHAPTER 1 



THE INITIAL PHASE 



Several years before the founding of the South African National Coun- 
cil for the Blind in 1929 there were already stirrings in different parts 
of the country in connection with the rendering of special services to 
the blind. A realisation of the urgency of assisting this section of the 
community originated mainly with philanthropically minded indi- 
viduals and groups. The religious community also played a role since 
its leaders strongly believed that service to the underprivileged was one 
of the most important duties of the Christian church. The persons who 
took the lead in these movements deserve praise for their pioneering 
work since they paved the way for the comprehensive system of services 
for the blind which we have today. 

Historically the organisations which came into being as a result of 
this interest fall into two groups. The first group had already existed 
for a considerable time before the establisment of the National Coun- 
cil - one of them even in the previous century. The Worcester School 
for the Blind was founded in 1881, Our own Blind Fund Association 
in Natal in 1918 and the S.A. Library for the Blind in Grahamstown in 
1919. 

The second group came into being shortly before the foundation of 
the Council. They are the Johannesburg Society to Help Civilian Blind 
in 1926, the Athlone School for the Blind in 1927, the Cape Town Civ- 
ilian Blind Society in 1928 and Port Elizabeth Society for the Blind also 
in 1928. 

As regards the first group of organizations it should be noted that 
each rendered azservice in a different sphere of activity. The first orga- 
nization concerned itself with the education die child, the second widi 
the provision of library services and the third with general care, the re- 
lief of distress and employment. Since each of these played a decisive 
role in its specific field, they deserve closer attention. 



1 



The Worcester School for the Blind ^ 

The Deaf and Blind Institute was founded in Worcester in 1881 and 
this was the beginning of the education of the blind in South Africa. 
The initial move in this connection had come from Ds Christiaan 
Rabie of Piketberg and Ds William Murray of Worcester - both minis- 
ters of the Cape Dutch Reformed Church. 

In 1877 Ds Murray visited Ds Rabie who told him about a deaf boy 
in his congregation who did not receive any schooling. He was the only 
child of a wealthy farmer, Mr Theunis Smit. There was indeed a school 
for the deaf in Cape Town at that time under the auspices of the 
Roman Catholic Church (founded in 1863), and Mr Smit thought of 
sending his son there. Ds Murray's reaction was to ask Ds Rabie to start 
a school for the deaf immediately at Piketberg under the management 
of the N.G. Church. Ds Rabie however considered Worcester to be a 
more suitable place as it was more centrally situated. ^ 

More or less a year later a letter by Dr Andrew Murray, minister at 
Wellington (Cape) at the time, appeared in Die Gereformeerde Kerk- 
bode of 16 March 1878 about "our deaf and dumb" in which he made 
mention of a father with two deaf sons. In the letter he advocated the 
founding of an institute for the education of deaf children under the 
auspices of the N.G. Church. The letter ends with the meaningful 
postscript: 

"Dan zijn er noch onze blinden: dat iemand zich over hen ont- 
ferme en de gelegenheid stichte voor hunne opleiding." 
(Then there are also our blind: that someone should have com- 
passion upon them and create the opportunity for their educa- 
tion.) 

It is likely that Dr Andrew Murray did not know about Ds William 
Murray's visit to Ds Rabie, or of their conversation. Without any doubt 
however, Dr Andrew Murray's letter in the Kerkbode and the favour- 
able reaction it evoked from Dr Servaas Hofmeyr of Montagu, acted as 
a further stimulant for Di. Rabie and Murray to continue with their 
plans. It so happened that Ds Murray also had a deaf boy in his con- 
gregation, namely Piet de Labat, the son of Gert de Labat,^ school 
principal at Rawsonville (Goudini) which fell under die parish of Wor- 
cester at that time. 

In 1879 at a meeting of the Presbytery of Tulbagh (to which the par- 
ishes of Worcester and Piketberg then belonged) it was decided to 



2 



make provision for the education of the deaf. The Presbytery also com- 
mitted itself to send a qualified teacher overseas to train as a teacher of 
the deaf* 

The needs of the blind were not discussed, according to the reports 
of the meeting of the Presbytery, but the case for the blind received the 
attention of a meeting of the Synod which was held in Cape Town the 
following year (1880). There it was decided to make provision for the 
education of both the deaf and the blind, through the founding of 
''The Deaf and Blind Institute". The resolution was passed at the 
Synod's meeting of 17 November 1880.^ 

A "Commission" was appointed to attend to the matter further and 
consisted of Di. W. Murray, C. Rabie, A. D. LuckhofF and G. A. 
Scholtz. 

The problem of finding a suitable teacher for the institution now ur- 
gently required the attention of the Commission. At first they at- 
tempted to procure a teacher from Holland, but this effort fell 
through. The choice then fell on B. J. G. (Jan) de Labat, a young man 
who had just completed his teacher's course and was well known to Ds 
Murray. Furthermore, he was concerned about die education of the 
deaf, since he had a deaf brother (Piet). Part of De Labat's assignment 
was to orientate himself with the education of the blind as well.^ In 
January 1880 De Labat left for Holland. It appears that although he 
devoted himself mainly to the study of the education of the deaf, he 
also carried out the charge he had received, namely to apply himself to 
the education of the blind as well. According to a report which was re- 
ceived from him in November 1880 from Amsterdam it appears that 
he resided at the Institute for the Blind in that city for some time to 
study the education of the blind. In connection with this he writes inter 
alia (translated): "I am happy to be able to say that I am fairly well ac- 
quainted with this branch of education."^ After a sojourn of ap- 
proximately fourteen months abroad De Labat returned on 10 March 
1881. As regards the site where the institution should be established. 
It was decided that Worcester would be die most suitable place. The 
Synod, however, did not pass a resolution to this effect. Therefore the 
Commission, at its meeting on 4 May 1881, which was held at Worces- 
ter, decided that the insdtution should be established at Worcester. 
Biesenbach writes of diis (translated): "It would certainly have been 
strange if the choice had fallen on a different place. Piketberg had in- 



3 



deed been mentioned, but it was at once pointed out that Worcester 
was much more central. Since 1876 Worcester was connected with 
Cape Town by rail and the extension of the railway to the north was 
already well underway in 1881."* 

The Commission concerned itself immediately with the burning 
question of the raising of funds, for there was no hope of procuring 
any money from the education authorities, not before the school ws 
founded and well under way. 

As to who should be considered the founder of the Institution, it is 
today generally agreed that the honour should belong to Dr William 
Murray. In the Souvenir which was published during the 50th anniver- 
sary of the Institute he was honoured as such. A photograph of him 
also appeared in the publication. According to Dr Biesenbach, how- 
ever, he ought to be considered a co-founder with Ds Christiaan 
Rabie. This was also the opinion of Rev. A. Dreyer, the first Archivist 
of the Cape N.G. Church, as recorded by Dr Biesenbach.^ 

The school was opened on 15 June 1881 in a hired room of an ordi- 
nary dwelling house in High Street, Worcester. Mr B. J. G. de Labat 
was the teacher. According to Biesenbach the school started with one 
pupil, but the Souvenir which was published in 1931 mentions three. 
All of them were deaf. About a month later the first blind pupil was 
enrolled. He was Daniel Simonis of Rawsonville, a village about 16 
kilometres from Worcester. But he stayed only two months and then 
left because, according to the report of the Commission of the Institute 
to the N.G. Synod of 1883, as quoted by Biesenbach: "he lacked the 
courage and the inclination to stay longer."'^ 

Now that the Institute for the Deaf and Blind had officially been 
opened attention can henceforth be devoted to the department for the 
blind. After the discharge of the first blind pupil two months after his 
enrolment, a strange situation existed, namely that during the follow- 
ing ten years not a single blind child was admitted. The records of the 
Institute are very vague about the reason for this. Did the experience 
with the first blind pupil discourage the Commission and the teacher .^^ 
Did De Labat prefer to apply himself to the education of the deaf be- 
cause it was such a difficult task, and therefore did not see his way clear 
to teach a group of blind children as well.^ In connection with this 
Biesenbach wrote: "It is also likely that the predominant interest of the 
first principal in the deaf did not pave the way for the acceptance of 



4 



Mr M.J. Besselaar, Principal of the Worcester 
School for the Blind (1905- 1928). 



Dr P. E. Biesenbach, Principal of the Worces 
ter School for the Blind (1929-1961). 




Worcester School for the Blind. A group of the first pupils. In the centre is Issie Schoeman the 
nrst pupil. 



5 



blind pupils during the first years of the Institution."" From the testi- 
mony of four ex-pupils who were in residence at the school in 1891 
and 1892, it appears that their parents either did not know of the exist- 
ence of the school earlier, or were under the impression that blind 
children were not eligible. Whatever the reasons may have been, it 
must nevertheless be acknowledged that this was an unfortunate state 
of affairs, considering that there was a steady flow of pupils after 1891. 
Admittedly all of them were not "children", for the ages of those ad- 
mitted in 1891 and 1892 varied between 16 and 24 years. That there 
was a great need for education of the blind is proved by the fact that 
over a period of 15 years (1891 to 1905) 106 pupils were enrolled at the 
school, of whom 41 were still at school at the end of 1905.'^ 

The first pupil who was admitted in 1891 was Isabella Schoeman of 
Oudtshoorn. She arrived in February of that year. The fact that ten 
years had elapsed between the first and second admissions, and consi- 
dering that the first pupil was discharged after only two months, the 
question arises whether the date of the foundation of the school should 
be considered to be 1891 rather than 1881. In practice it should be 
1891, because only then did the education programme begin in ear- 
nest. There existed some controversy about the dates but it is generally 
accepted that whereas the Institute for the Deaf and Blind was founded 
in 1881, this should also be the date of the establishment of the Wor- 
cester School for the Blind. 

As the number of pupils grew in both departments (deaf and blind), 
it became necessary to appoint more staff. It also became clear, es- 
pecially after the advent of the blind in 1891, that a division between 
the two departments would eventually become necessary. 

The first male assistant teacher was appointed in one of the new 
posts in the department for the deaf This was in 1886. As there were as 
yet no blind pupils, his duties were concerned with the deaf However, 
later on he would play an important role in the teaching of the blind in 
South Africa. He was Mattheus Johannes (Jan) Besselaar. 

Born in 1862 in Holland, the seventeen-year- old Besselaar came to 
South Africa with the assistance of his uncle, who lived at Stellenbosch. 
He first worked as a shop assistant in Cape Town, but wished to study 
further. Before he could begin, however, he received an invitation 
from Mr De Labat to visit him at Worcester. De Labat was acquainted 
with his parents in Holland and had met him there. After this visit Bes- 
selaar decided to become a teacher. 



6 



He enrolled as a student at the Normal College in Cape Town for 
both the matriculation examination and the ''Middle Class Teachers' 
Certificate". He passed the latter in June 1886, but he failed one sub- 
ject (Latin) for the matriculation examination. This he passed later. 

Already in 1885 De Labat had spoken to him about a possible ap- 
pointment, and towards the end of the year the post was offered to him 
in writing by the Board of Management of the Institute. He began his 
task in the department for the deaf on 21 July 1886. The salary was £75 
(R150) per year with free board and lodging. He wrote to his parents 
that he was quite satisfied with this. 

In 1887 he was promoted to first assistant — a proof of satisfaction 
with his work. From June to December 1890 he was granted leave to go 
to Europe (Holland, Germany and England) to study the teaching of 
the deaf Although this was his main object, he mentioned in a letter 
that he also included the education of the blind in his studies. 

It is strange that Besselaar's chief assignment was the study of the 
education of the deaf and that the education of the blind was a secon- 
dary consideration. In connection with this Biesenbach writes (trans- 
lated): "After his return from Europe in April 1891 Besselaar at first 
taught both the deaf and the blind. It soon came about that De Labat 
alone took charge of the education of the deaf and Besselaar of that of 
the blind."^^ 

As the two departments expanded it was inevitable that this would 
result in the establishment of two separate schools, one for the blind 
and the other for the deaf, each with its own principal and adminis- 
tration. This happened in 1905. Geographically there was no separ- 
ation, however, as both schools were situated on the same terrain. The 
geographical separation finally took place only in 1932, when the 
school for the deaf was moved to its new buildings on a site on the 
outskirts of the town. The result was that enough space for the school 
for the blind was now available, especially for the building of hostels, 
and for the erection of a new school building, which was completed in 
1938. This paved the way for the introduction of a matriculation 
course in 1943, which again led to the admission to universities with all 
the attendant benefits. 

Up to now attention has been given mainly to the history and found- 
ing of the Worcester School for the Blind and its academic de- 
velopment. We must now examine the efforts which were made to in- 
troduce vocational training. It took the form of handwork and trade 



7 



courses in the educational programme of the school. This must be seen 
as the beginning of training for employment of the blind in South Af- 
rica, cither in sheltered employment or in open labour. 

Wherever schools for the blind had been founded for the first time, 
such as in France (1784), Austria (1804), Germany (1806) and America 
(1832), it was soon realised that academic teaching alone was not suf- 
ficient, and very soon vocational training courses were introduced, 
which could possibly lead to independent living. With some it became 
a matter of such urgency that even a man like Valentin Haiiy, head of 
the first school, incurred criticism because he introduced too many 
trades, which resulted in the training becoming too superficial. He also 
devoted much attention to the teaching of music. Up to a certain point 
this met with a measure of success, for quite a number of his ex-pupils 
were employed as organists in churches, but the school turned out so 
many that later on several of them were unable to find employment. In 
Vienna, Berlin and Boston the principals of the various schools were in 
time forced to start workshops, because the trained pupils were unable 
to obtain work in the open labour market or to do profitable work on 
their ovm. As regards the first American school for the blind, namely 
the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston (established in 1832), the 
first principal, Dr Samuel Gridley Howe, was positive - with a slightly 
exaggerated optimism — that all his ex-pupils could be economically 
integrated. He also mentioned, amongst other things, that there were 
good careers for intellectual blind people in the music world. How- 
ever, the entire question of employment worried him so much later on 
that he established a workshop for adult blind as a department of his 
school. Ten years later the workshop was separated from the schooP* 
Howe realised that a school had its own objectives and had to remain 
solely a school. In England the position was more or less the same. The 
second school for the blind in England, founded in 1793, was named 
"The Bristol Asylum*^ or Industrial School for the Blind". The last 
part of the name indicated that handicrafts definitely formed part of 
the educational programme. But according to French^^ it did not al- 
ways lead to employment. He states it thus: 

**At Bristol in the same year there was founded an Asylum or Indus- 
trial School for the Blind, its object being not to employ the blind after 
being educated, but to teach them the means of getting a living by 
work". This objective appeared to be far too optimistic, according to 
the experience of Dr Thomas Armitage, undoubtedly the most remark- 



8 



able blind man England ever produced. When he, as a medical doctor, 
had to relinquish his profession in 1860 at the age of 36 years on ac- 
count of progressive blindness, he decided to devote himself with heart 
and soul to the service of his fellow blind. He was a man with drive and 
perseverance. He established, inter alia, the British and Foreign Blind 
Association in 1868, which is known today as the Royal National Insti- 
tute for the Blind, with its head office in London. 

To return to die Worcester School for the Blind, we find that shortly 
after the admission of pupils in 1891 die Board of Management de- 
cided to enlist two teachers from abroad - one as a music teacher and 
die other as an instructor in basket making. The music teacher was an 
ex-pupil of the Royal Normal College for the Blind, London, which 
Thomas Armitage had founded in 1872. He was Mr Harold Green- 
wood, who arrived here in January 1894. The instructor in basket 
making was Mr G. Paterson. He came from the Edinburgh Asylum for 
the BHnd, of which Mr W. H. Illingworth, a well-known personality in 
the education of the blind in Scodand, was the headmaster. Mr Pater- 
son assumed his duties in October 1894.^^ 

With the teaching of music there was immediate success. Mr Green- 
wood was a capable and conscientious teacher and enjoyed the respect 
of his pupils. 

It is fitdng to quote the words of the late Mr P. Cruse (music teacher 
in Pretoria), one of his most successful ex-pupils, on the occasion of 
Mr Greenwood's redrement in 1933. '*Mr Greenwood has taught us 
diree things: first to appreciate music, which is a great thing in these 
days of mechanised music. Secondly, he developed our cridcal facul- 
ties, which enabled us to maintain a high musical standard. Lasdy, he 
taught us to realise that our musical training must become our means 
of livelihood." 

Music was dius die first profession pracdsed by blind people in 
Soudi Africa. However, there were no outstanding performers. Those 
best qualified became music teachers, and generally also became die 
organists of die churches in die towns in which they worked. 

The fact diat, almost without excepdon, the blind music teachers ac- 
quitted diemselves well of their tasks and became esteemed members 
of die various communides in which diey worked, shows, besides other 
benefits, die rehabilitative value of profitable employment. It also 
proves diat in spite of die so-called isoladon in which die pupils of a 
residential school for die blind live and receive dieir educadon, a basic 



foundation is laid for their integration into the community when they 
leave school. 

Another course which showed good results was that of piano tuning. 
Mr Greenwood had taken a course in this in England along with his 
musical studies (which was the policy of the Royal Normal College at 
that time). Although it was not his chief concern, he trained several 
students successfully. The first blind person who left the Worcester 
School for the Blind as a piano tuner was Mr J. J. (Koot) Pienaar. The 
piano tuning department was later taken over by Mr F. Verster, voca- 
tional instructor. He was trained in his free time by Mr Greenwood 
and Mr Pienaar who worked in Worcester. Biesenbach writes about 
this: "Thus he (Verster) breathed new life into this very important sub- 
ject after it had not been taught for years. Piano tuning immediately 
became popular with the pupils; so much so that Verster had no fewer 
than 16 piano tuning candidates in one year."'^ 

Piano tuning has through the years been an excellent source of in- 
come for quite a number of blind people, especially those with 
business acumen and initiative, together with their professional knowl- 
edge. A few have opened music shops, others have acquired agencies 
for the sale of pianos and organs, while a number have obtained con- 
tracts from provincial administrations for the tuning and repairing of 
school pianos. Here then is a group of blind people who have carved 
out a career for themselves on their own inidative. 

Another avenue of employment which had already been introduced 
in 1914 was stenography. This was the outcome of the instrucdon in 
typewriting, which had been taught at the school since 1907, and 
proves that from early on it had already been realised that typewriting 
should play an important part in the school programme. The authori- 
ties realised the necessity of typewridng, not only as an aid to teaching, 
but also as a rehabilitadon medium, since it is a useful means of com- 
municadon with the sighted community. 

It stands to reason that only those pupils who showed ability in 
typewridng were chosen to follow the course in stenography. 

Biesenbach writes about this: "In 1914 three braille shorthand ma- 
chines were ordered from Berlin and a beginning was made with the 
teaching of braille stenography to a few of the most competent pupils. 
They took down the dictated letter in braille shordiand, and then typed 
it over on an ordinary typewriter. "^^ 

The braille shorthand of which Biesenbach writes was a system de- 



10 



vised in those days for the Dutch language and used in Holland. Cop- 
ies of this system were still found at die Worcester School for the Blind 
during the forties, when the Afrikaans braille shorthand system was 
devised. We must therefore accept that the pupils used the Dutch sys- 
tem in those days and received their instruction in that language. It is 
possible that the English braille shorthand system was also taught at 
that time. 

Although the effort of the Worcester school shows a spirit of enter- 
prise and was certainly praiseworthy it was soon abandoned. Biesen- 
bach mentions that Besselaar had told him that no employer could be 
found to take trained students into service. ''One of the most efficient 
pupils in stenography and typewriting — Susanna Malan — actually of- 
fered to work without payment for a trial period in order to be given 
an opportunity to prove her capability. Even for this no employer was 
available."^' 

During those years it was perhaps sdll too early to expect employers 
(private or even the State) to be at all willing to employ a blind typist or 
stenographer. This assertion is made in the light of the fact that even in 
the sixties the present writer was urgently asked to supply a provincial 
administration with advice as to the type of work which could be given 
to two blind typists. 

After this abortive effort of 1914 nothing was done in regard to the 
training of stenographers at the school until after the institution of the 
matriculation course in 1943. Then one of the candidates who had 
passed (Johanna Erwee) was trained as a stenographer typist. Provision 
for such a course had already been made, as the vice-principal of the 
school at that time had already in 1940 started devising a braille short- 
hand system for Afrikaans. The candidate was instructed in braille 
shorthand in both official languages. After having completed her 
training she was appointed at the Worcester School and later occupied 
a post in the public service, and indeed as the typist of a cabinet minis- 
ter. 

We now return to the establishment of a vocational training depart- 
ment in the school. This must be seen as an important development 
because for many years vocational training would form the backbone 
of a reasonably profitable field of labour for the largest group of blind 
people after they had left the school. It is also the foundation on which 
the present factory for the blind at Worcester has been built (although 
through the years it has developed and grown out of all recognition). 



11 



Before Mr Paterson's arrival in 1894 a beginning had already been 
made with instruction in basket making. This was the only form of 
handwork that was taught initially. It was, however, considered im- 
portant because there was a very great demand for bushel baskets in 
the grape growing districts of the Western Cape. 

Biesenbach quotes from a letter from Ds W. Murray to the then 
Superintendent- General of Education (S.G.E.) of the Cape Education 
Department, in which he set out the arrangements that had been made 
for the teaching of basket making. These were as follows : two young 
men would travel by train from Robertson to Worcester on Thursdays 
in order to instruct eight pupils on Fridays at the remuneration of 
three shillings and nine pence (approximately 37 cents) a day. 

In connection with this Biesenbach mentions that Mr F. Verster had 
told him that afterwards only one person had come from Robertson, 
and his conveyance was a donkey cart!. 

That cane was used in those days is shown in a report by Mr H. Hill, 
principal of the Boys' School at Worcester at the time, who had to re- 
port to Ds Murray on the instruction in the vocational department. 
This was during the time when the weekly visits of the two "instructors" 
from Robertson took place. Hill's reports on the quality of the work 
were favourable, and he mentions inter alia: "The material used was 
strips of reed, quince twigs and cane."" 

Still, it seems as if both the Department of Education and the Board 
of Management did not fully realise the seriousness of the matter, for 
at the beginning of 1895 Mr Paterson was appointed as a class teacher 
in the place of a teacher who had left. This meant that Paterson then 
had only 1^ hours per week in which to give instruction in basket mak- 
ing. Yet it would appear that the Department of Education was more 
to blame for this state of affairs than the Board, considering that die 
former insisted that a qualified teacher should be appointed in the va- 
cancy. The Board of Management then probably came up against a dif- 
ficult decision. Whatever the case may have been, the fact remains that 
the vocational training department suffered a grave setback. 

Biesenbach was critical towards the attitude of the Board in this 
matter, and compared the favourable attention that the music depart- 
ment enjoyed with the shabby treatment with which the trades depart- 
ment had to be satisfied.^^ Perhaps the comparison was unjust because 
the nature of the instruction and the ultimate objectives were so widely 
different. Biesenbach is, however, correct when he writes: "Concern- 



12 



ing the necessity for vocational training, the Board could not have 
been in the dark. Both De Labat and Besselaar had become acquainted 
with a number of schools in Europe where die making of baskets, 
bfushes, mats and nets, and spinning, weaving, knitting, and the can- 
ing of chairs received much attention. 

In connection with die girls Biesenbach writes as follows: "With the 
vocational training of the girls matters were even worse. In this period 
no instructress was appointed to take charge of diis important work. A 
beginning was first made when Mrs H. Greenwood gave classes in 
knitting to die girls for two hours a week in 1895. For this charitable 
work she merely received a bonus of £10 now and again. She con- 
tinued up to 1906. 

After that date a temporary teacher was appointed to teach hand- 
work to the girls as well as other subjects. Thh, however, was a rather 
haphazard arrangement, and only in 1910 was the department placed 
on a firm footing under the control of Mrs Pederson.^^ 

A reasonable breakthrough as regards the mechanisation of knitting 
came after die return of Mr J. P. Kruger, a blind teacher at die school, 
who had visited Europe in 1905. There he became acquainted with the 
circular knitting machine for the making of socks. He brought one ma- 
chine back widi him. In the beginning he operated it himself and also 
taught the girls and teachers to use it. This was die beginning of an im- 
portant era in the employment of blind girls, aldiough die knitting of 
socks later on ceased to be profitable as a result of die unequal compe- 
tition with the factories. 

To return to the vocational training of die boys, it may be men- 
tioned diat diis only became properly established under die guidance 
of Mr F. J. (Frank) Verster, who, however, found it an uphill struggle 
on account of die minimal help he received. 

Verster was enrolled as a pupil in 1892 at die age of 1 7 years. He first 
attended an ordinary school up to standard four, as he became blind 
only after an attack of meningitis when he was 13 years old. He was a 
bright pupil and passed die standard six examination at the end of die 
following year, namely in 1893. In June 1894 he passed die "Elemen- 
tary examination" of diat time. Vocational training had dien already 
been introduced at the school. In 1895 Verster was appointed by die 
Board of Management as an instructor in die making of baskets, but 
the S.G.E. of the Cape Department of Education refused to approve 
die appointment, and towards die end of 1895 Verster left die school. 



13 



It was probably his intention to become throughly proficient in the 
making of baskets, and then to start his own business. In connection 
with this Biesenbach mentions^' that Verster went to two bhnd brothers 
- Loubsers - who lived in the vicinity of Hermon (between Tulbagh 
and Wellington). They made bushel baskets. His visit was met with 
unfriendliness and after this unsuccessful mission he returned home to 
his parents. 

It is interesting to note that the blind had already made a living on 
their own initiative so long ago. Unfortunately we do not know any- 
thing further about the Loubsers. They were never pupils of the Wor- 
cester School, and must have learnt their trade somewhere else. 

Verster tiien left for Cape Town. The Malays at the time were re- 
nowned for their cane work and he pleaded widi them to teach him the 
making of baskets. At first they were unwilling and he had to pay them 
to let him into the secrets of the trade. 

After he had worked for four months among the Malays and had 
made good progress, he went back to the school, well equipped to ac- 
cept the Board of Management's offer of appointment as an instructor 
in the making of baskets on a year's probation. That was in June 1896. 

His duties did not, however, end widi the making of baskets. It has 
already been mentioned that he also became an instructor in piano 
tuning. After that the making of mattresses followed. Verster learnt 
this trade on his own initiative from an upholsterer who worked for his 
brother, a wagon maker in Paarl. Always on the lookout for new ave- 
nues, he went to a Reformatory in Cape Town to learn the making of 
rope matting. That was in 1907. This trade was not a success because it 
took too much time to do it by hand, and weaving had not yet been in- 
troduced.^^ 

Frank Verster can be regarded as the real pioneer of vocational 
training for the blind in this country. Not only did he make good 
craftsmen of his pupils but he also encouraged them to use their own 
initiative in order to become self-supporting. In this he set them an 
example. Until 1930 he was the only instructor in charge of all die 
trades at die school, and was burdened witii a very heavy responsi- 
bility. Yet he was successful in the training of his pupils, and prepared 
them well for their task. 

The problem which soon arose was how to provide employment for 
the trained school-leavers. But this was not a situation unique to Soutii 
Africa. In all the countries of Europe as well as in America, where 



14 



schools were established for the first time the problem of employment 
arose. It was as if everybody was so concerned with making the educa- 
tion of the blind child a success, and was so intensely involved with the 
coundess problems which this produced, that any thought of what 
would happen to the child afterwards remained in the background. At 
first the solution lay chiefly in the establishment of sheltered work- 
shops. There were a few school-leavers who could make a living as 
music teachers or piano tuners, but they formed only a small percent- 
age. Those who were trained in the trades such as basket making and 
odier cane work, or die making of brushes, brooms, etc. could not 
make a decent living. 

Here in South Afi-ica the example of Europe was not followed at 
first, and no sheltered workshops were established towards the end of 
the last century or even up to the end of the first quarter of this century 
(1926). 

The policy of die Worcester Institute was diat trained ex-pupils of 
the school should make their own way in the labour world. The Insti- 
tute was founded solely for the educadon of blind and deaf pupils. The 
policy is clearly set out in a brochure which was published by the 
Board of Management in 1914, and in which die following very defi- 
nite statement occurs: "The Institute is no institution for die lifelong 
care of unfortunates and is no society for the employment of the 
blindl"29 The brochure states furdier:"The chief aim is to make it poss- 
ible for die pupils to help widi dieir own support and to reach a certain 
degree of independence." The help which is mentioned here would 
certainly have existed only in the training which diey had received at 
the school. 

These statements were made in spite of die following point of view 
of die principal of die school, as expressed in a report to die Cape De- 
partment of Education two years before (August 1912): 

"Many odier gratifying results could be recorded, but diere are 
diose who fail in die batde of life. An association for die employ- 
ment of the blind is becoming an urgent necessity, to continue the 
work of the school among die adults who are in need of such 
help."3o 

One must accept, then, diat die principal did actually realise what 
straits diese people were in, but for some reason or odier did not have 
die energy, or could not influence die Board of Management, to 
launch a vast undertaking such as die erection of workshops widi 



15 



boarding facilities included. It is likely that the Board of Management 
considered that some other body should start such a project, but at 
that time no such association came forward. Everything concerning the 
blind was concentrated in the School for the Blind. 

That the matter had already occupied the attention of the Board of 
Management years before, is proved by a remark in a report of the 
Board to the Synod in 1903, which reads as follows: 

"Large orders for baskets must often be refused because no pro- 
vision exists for the housing of blind workers, who must live away 
from the Institute. Such an employment centre would provide the 
indigent blind with a livelihood and can possibly be expanded."^' 
In connection with the position of school-leavers one should refer 
to the report of the Board of Management to the Synod in 1919. The 
period covered was the previous four years, as the Synod sat every four 
years. The section in the report dealing with this matter reads as fol- 
lows: (translated) 

"Of the 48 blind pupils who left the school during this period, 
two have died, five were discharged on medical advice on account 
of ill health, and four because of weak mental faculties. Seven re- 
turned to their parental homes after not having given full satisfac- 
tion. Four hold positions as organists and music teachers. Eleven 
left to become piano tuners. Nine work as basket makers and 
mattress makers, and five girls work as the makers of socks on the 
knitting machine. "^^ 
If one analyses the above, one is struck by the large number of piano 
tuners who left the school, namely eleven. This must be compared with 
the nine basket and mattress makers. It is to be regretted that no inves- 
tigation was carried out to ascertain where the piano tuners had settled 
and how they had fared. This of course also applies to the others. 

In connection with the report on the school-leavers and their ability 
to obtain work, Biesenbach's reaction is as follows: 

"The impression is left that circumstances were fairly favourable 
for these pupils in their struggle to make a living. It will later be 
shown to what a small degree this optimism was justified, and 
that it was probably based on the misjudgement of the real posi- 
tion, or an absence of correct information."^^ 
Biesenbach here refers to a survey which he made in 1929, shortly 
after he had been appointed principal of the school, following the re- 
tirement of Mr Besselaar. The survey was in connection with the finan- 



16 



cial position of the school's ex-pupils. Biesenbach had realised that 
after-care work, amongst other things, in the form of sheltered work- 
shops for both men and women, had long since become an absolute 
necessity. It had to be an expansion of the activities of the Institute, 
and such an organization had to fall under the direct administration of 
die Board of Management. A circular was consequently sent by Biesen- 
bach to all the ex-pupils of whom the addresses could be found. 
"About a hundred supplied the required information, from which it 
transpired that only two girls could support themselves, and that more 
than half of the men could not even earn one pound (R2) a month. If 
we take into account that the circular doubdessly reached all the more 
successful ex-pupils, and was answered by them, and that many a 
struggling and needy ex-pupil could not be contacted, then these data 
speak a very clear language."^* 

The workshops were opened on 1 May 1933. This aspect of the work 
will be dealt with when attention is given to the growth of after-care 
work in South Africa in the period after die establishment of the S.A. 
National Council for the Blind in 1929. 

It is, however, necessary to point out that in the decades before 1929 
there were quite a number of blind people who had been very success- 
ful. Besides music teachers and piano tuners there were also a few 
physiotherapists who had then already completed their courses in 
London and had begun their own practices. There were even those 
who had made a big success of basket making. Amongst them were the 
Marais brothers of Worcester, who had built up a flourishing business. 
They used Coloured men as factory workers. Later on diey acquired a 
pipe factory and a motor workshop. There were several basket makers 
in the Western Cape who made a good living on their own as the 
makers of bushel baskets, for which diere was of course a good de- 
mand in the area. In those days there were also, just as today, an ex- 
ceptional case here and there where a blind person followed a vocation 
not generally associated with blindness. So diere was Mr C. Marais, a 
cousin of the Marais brothers of Worcester who had set up an electrical 
business at Robertson. 

The arrival of Mr (later Dr) Biesenbach as principal of die School for 
the Blind in 1929 brought about a complete change in die approach to 
employment for die blind. This must be partially ascribed to die exten- 
sive study of die education of die blind and blindness in general that he 
undertook abroad in 1928; but perhaps it was mostly due to his anx- 



17 



iety about the lot of most of the school-leavers who were leading a very 
meagre existence. Biesenbach was a very practical person by nature 
and a good administrator, who believed in the cause which he served. 
These qualities sometimes brought him into conflict with the authori- 
ties, but this did not trouble him unduly, since the cause of the blind 
was his main concern. 

In his thesis (often quoted before) he was not always as impartial in 
his treatment of the history of the school as should be expected of a 
historian. He was very critical of the views of the Board of Manage- 
ment, and perhaps more so of those of his predecessor because the lat- 
ter did not concern himself much with the lot of his ex-pupils, and 
considered education alone important. 

Biesenbach accomplished a great task at Worcester, and his name 
must be honoured for this. The role which he played will receive more 
attention at a later stage when the activities of the various affiliated bo- 
dies are dealt with. 

We have tried to show how an educational system for the blind | 
could lead up to the broad conception of the provision of services. 
Special attention has been paid to the period before 1929 because, as 
has already been shown, diat was an important year in the history of 
blindness. It is the year in which the foundation of the S.A. National 
Council for the Blind occurred, but it is incidentally also the year when 
a great change in the viewpoint concerning the education of the blind 
took place. Later on it will be shown diat the development of educa- 
tion still further contributed to a better and more effective provision of 
services to the blind of the country. 

Our Own Blind Fund Association 

According to available information,^^ John Edward Palmer was so 
moved by the lot of the large number of blinded soldiers towards the 
end of the First World War ( 1914- 1918) diat he decided to start a fund 
for their financial assistance. As part of his effort he placed collection , 
boxes in offices in Durban, and organised concerts and other functions 
in country towns. When the fund had become reasonably strong, he 
decided to form a committee to administer it. In this way "Our Own j 
Blind Fund Association for the Province of Natal" was brought into 
existence on 30 August 1918.^^ ; 

Palmer's vocation was stated as being that of a Commissioner of 
Oaths, with an office in Casde Arcade, West Street, Durban. It is prob- ; 



18 



Our Own Blind Fund Association of Natal. In the centre: Mr J. Edward Palmer (founder) with 
white helmet, Mrs Constance Cawston and. Dr Gordon Cawston (her husband), with a erouo of 
blind people, 1921. & k 




19 



able that he practised law. It has also been said that he often enter- 
tained groups of blind people at his home where, besides taking part in 
odier forms of recreation, they sometimes passed the time by making 
music. 

The fund was initially utilized to grant financial aid to blind people. 
These included the civilian blind as well as the war-blinded. A fund for 
die establishment of a nadonal insdtute for the blind was also started. 
A project which can be considered unique was the opening of a shop 
for shoe repairs. In diis connection die 1961 Chairman's report of the 
Natal European and Coloured Civilian Blind Associadon^* states the 
following: 

"As early as 1919 die need for a Home and Training Insdtution 
in or near Durban was recognised, and as a step in this direction a 
boot repairing shop at the comer of Musgave and St. Thomas 
Roads was opened during July 1920, but later abandoned at the 
end of April 1928. In 1937 a property situated in First Avenue, 
Greyville, was purchased but the cost of alteradons to make the 
property suitable for a workshop was considered too high, and 
once again the scheme was abandoned." 
Nevertheless, another workshop was opened a year later, in 1938, 
after the services of an instructor from England had been procured. 

About die year 1921 a lady who was desdned to play an important 
role in welfare work for the blind of all populadon groups joined the 
Association. She was Mrs Gordon (Constance) Cawston. Having lived 
in Transkei, where her husband practised as a medical doctor, she had 
ftill command of both the Xhosa and die Zulu languages. This facili- 
tated her welfare work among die Zulu blind. She was a tireless 
worker, who later became the driving force behind die establishment 
of die Society for Bantu Blind in 1936 and the Natal Indian Sociaty for 
the Blind in 1939. Later she also played an important part in the activi- 
ties of die National Council, serving for some time as its vice-chair- 
man. 

The name of Our Own Blind Fund Association appears in the rec- 
ords of die National Council for die first time in connection widi a 
conference which was held at Bloemfontein on 22 June 1928. It was 
convened by Miss J. E. Wood of the S.A. Library for die Blind and die 
Rev. A. W. Blaxall, a minister of die Anglican Church, widi die object 
of establishing a national body for die benefit of die blind in diis 
country. All bodies and persons who were concerned widi work 



20 



among the bhnd were invited, among them also the Natal Association. 
The latter, however, did not send a representative. At the conference 
Mrs G. K. Nowlan of Johannesburg reported on the work which was 
being done by the Association. Besides odier matters, she made men- 
tion of a sum of £5 000 (RIO 000) which they had on fixed deposit 
with the object of establishing a permanent institution. 

When it was decided to hold a continuation conference in Cape 
Town to finalise the establishment of a national co-ordinating body, 
and invitations had been sent out on a much wider front, the Natal As- 
sociation once more declined to send representatives. On inquiry the 
Association replied diat it had decided not to affiliate to the Council. It 
is possible diat the Association was under the impression that the 
money which it had collected up to that time would be incorporated 
into the funds of the National Council. 

Several attempts were made, initially by the Organising Secretary of 
the National Council and later by the Chairman, Adv. A. W. Bowen, to 
change its attitude, but the Association refused to be convinced. It was 
explained that each affiliated society was autonomous and would re- 
tain all its assets. After lengthy negotiations the obstacles were removed 
and the Association eventually affiliated to die National Council on 14 
September 1936."^^ 

In 1942 the Association changed its name to the Natal European 
and Coloured Civilian Blind Association. As has already been stated, 
separate societies for Blacks (1936) and Indians (1939) were started by 
Mrs Cawston, who was a very active member of the Association at that 
time. It can dierefore rightly be assumed diat diree active organizations 
evolved from die original ''Our Own Blind Fund Association" of 
1918. Thus the founding of the Association was fully justified, and 
tribute should be paid to John Edward Palmer for his efforts. 

The South African Library for the Blind 

The South African Library for the Blind owes its existence to the inci- 
dental meeting between Miss Josephine Ediel Wood and Miss Eleanor 
Comber during the influenza epidemic of 1918. Bodi ladies were en- 
gaged in caring for the sick in die Black residential areas of Grahams- 
town. Miss Comber was a missionary who had come from England in 
1914 where she had been doing welfare work among the blind. She in- 
tended to carry on with her work in this country mainly on a religious 
basis, but found that there were no books for those blind persons who 



21 



had left school.*' She then obtained books in braille and Moon-type 
from friends overseas. Towards the end of 1918 she was in contact with 
about 25 blind persons, and 15 of them received books regularly. By 
this time she had built up the nucleus of a library. It consisted of 100 
volumes. In 1919 Miss Comber decided to return to England and she 
prevailed upon Miss Wood to take over the work. In this connection 
Miss Wood writes as follows: 

"In the beginning of 1919 she gave me some instruction in 
braille, the books, one dozen canvas covers in which to pack them 
for posting, and the care of 18 readers. I was rather reluctant to 
undertake the work, but have never since regretted it." 
In March 1919 the library was started in the home of Miss Wood, 
^'without funds and without shelves". Very soon friends and pupils of 
her old school in Grahamstown sent small sums of money with which 
she could buy braille books. Readers sent some of their own books. 
Donations came from the most unlikely places: England, China, Tul- 
bagh. Van Rhynsdorp, and others. 

In 1921 she made contact with the two English institutions, namely 
the National Institute for the Blind and the National Library for the 
Blind in London. The N.I.B. sent a case containing 166 volumes as a 
gift, and the Union Castle Company conveyed it free of charge on one 
of its ships. The National Library for the Blind also regularly lent 40 
volumes for six months at a time. The result of all these efforts was that 
towards the year 1923 the library possessed 900 books (in braille and 
Moon) and 150 on loan. In that year the first grant to be allotted by the 
authorities, namely £100 (R200), was received from the Cape Provin- 
cial council. 

It is understandable that Miss Wood could not, as a result of the ex- 
pansion of the services, cope with the situation on her own, and 
needed help. In this connection she writes briefly and succinctly: 
"In 1921 Miss Krause came to help and stayed 28 years. "^^ 

A few years later Miss Blackwell joined them and became the braille 
expert. She trained numerous persons to transcribe books into braille. 
This transcription service was to become an important source for the 
augmentation of the supply of books. 

Miss Wood realized that she could not continue with the organiza- 
tion on her own and gathered together a small group of people in 
December 1923 to form a committee. During the following year a trust 
deed was drawn up and a Board of Management, consisting of nom- 



23 



inees from various public bodies in Grahamstown, was established. 
The first chairman was Mr M. E. Godlonton, who served in this ca- 
pacity from 1924 to 1942. The Governor- General at that time agreed 
to act as Patron- in- Chief. The first meeting of the Board of Manage- 
ment of the S.A. Library for the Blind took place on 7 July 1924. The 
Board took over the control of the library, with Miss J. E. Wood acting 
as both librarian and secretary. 

In the same year the Library received a legacy from the Bannerman 
Estate which enabled the Board of Management to buy an old building 
in High Street which they could convert into a library. The Library is 
still housed in this building at the present day, but with some exten- 
sions added over the years. 

In August 1925 Adv. R. W. Bowen of Cape Town officially opened 
the building, which from then on was known as Bannerman House. In 
the course of his address he said : 

"This little ceremony marks a very decided epoch in the history of 
the blind in South Africa as it is the first occasion that can be 
claimed as a national movement."*^ 

By this time the number of readers had increased to 150, and the 
books to 2 000. 

The Board of Management had no intention of allowing the Library 
to remain isolated, and set itself the task of making contact with library 
organizations in the country. Consequently Professor Bodmer, a mem- 
ber of the Board, and Miss J. E. Wood attended a conference of the S.A. 
Library Association in 1928 in Bloemfontein. The Carnegie Corpora- 
tion*'^ was also represented. 

A strong plea for financial assistance by Professor Bodmer was sym- 
pathetically received, and in 1930 a grant of £l 200 (R2 400) was made 
by the Corporation. A few years later this was followed by a second 
grant. 

Since we are dealing with the initial phase of services to the blind in 
this chapter, i.e. up to the year 1929 when the S.A. National Council 
for the Blind was established, the history of the S.A. Library for the 
Blind will now be discontinued for the time being. The subsequent ac- 
tivities and influence of this important institution will receive further 
attention in a later chapter. 

Johannesburg Society for Civilian Blind 

After Miss J. E. Wood had delivered a radio talk on the S.A. Library for 



24 



Society for Help Civilian Blind, Johannesburg. Opening of the "Blind Workers' Institute" in May 
1940 by the Rt Hon. W. B. Madeley, Minister of Labour. From left: Mr Madeley, a worker, Mrs 
G. K. Nowlan, Mr T. A. M. Huddle, Mayor of Johannesburg, Miss A. May Rogers. (Origin of 
photograph unknown). 




25 



the Blind on 13 January 1925, she was requested to address a meeting 
of the National Council of Women of Johannesburg*^ On this occasion 
she gave a general oudine of matters pertaining to blindness and laid 
particular stress on the dire circumstances in which many blind people 
found themselves. Among those present was Mrs G. K. (Dorothy) 
Nowlan who was deeply moved by the prevailing conditions. She im- 
mediately set to work to form a committee with four friends to com- 
mence welfare work among the blind in Johannesburg. They hired an 
office where blind home-workers could bring their products every Fri- 
day, and from where these could then be sold. This was in 1926.*^ 
It became clear that there was a need for a workshop for the blind 
where, amongst other things, they could receive training. With this in 
view a fund-raising campaign was set in motion. In connection with 
this, the following appears in the Society's Jubilee publication (1926- 
1976): 

"To publicise the work the Voluntary Committee organised a 
stall at the Witwatersrand Agricultural Show at which a few blind 
workers demonstrated their skills. As a result of this publicity, 
and the donations received, the first workshop' was rented in an 
old garage on the corner of Leyds and Biccard Streets, Braamfon- 

^ • >' 
tern. 

This arrangement proved to be unsatisfactory later on, and in 1932 a 
building, situated at the corner of Sauer and Frederick Streets, 
Johannesburg, was bought. These premises could accommodate both 
the workshop and the offices. A room was also fitted out for the dis- 
play of finished articles. At this stage, however, we have already arrived 
at the period after the establishment of the National Council in 1929. 
The rest of the Society's history will be dealt with later. 

In addition to the pioneering work undertaken by Mrs Nowlan in 
Johannesburg, she played an important part in the foundation of the 
National Council. At both conferences which were held for this pur- 
pose ~ in Bloemfontein in 1928 and in Cape Town in 1929*7 -she 
actively assisted in shaping and giving direction to the new co-ordinat- 
ing body which was to be established. In connection with this it is sig- 
nificant that she took an active part in the discussions during the draw- 
ing up of the constitution of the Council, to which she made a 
constructive contribution. According to the minutes and other docu- 
ments she introduced several matters for discussion, such as compul- 
sory education, prevention of blindness, the procuring and training of 



26 



instructors and the appointment of home -teachers. This showed that 
she had a thorough insight into matters relating to bhndness in gen- 
eral. She was elected as a member of the Executive Committee at the 
foundation meeting of the Council, which took place on 20 March 
1929. 

The Athlone School for the Blind 

Another organization for service to the blind which was founded be- 
fore the establishment of the S.A. National Council for the Blind was 
the Athlone School for the Blind. The school was officially opened by 
the Governor- General, the Earl of Athlone, on 7 May 1927. 

Although the preparatory work for its establishment was actually 
begun in 1926, there were stirrings as early as 1924. In that year two 
blind Coloured children were found on the Cape Flats by a Mrs Grip- 
pin of the Society for the Protection of Child Life. It so happened that 
she was familiar with braille, as she had previously transcribed books 
into braille for the National Library for the Blind in London. She im- 
mediately set to work to teach the children to read and write.'' A year 
later, in 1925, the Rev. A. W. Blaxall, Anglican Minister of Maitland, 
Cape Town, in the course of his pastoral work, came across a blind boy 
named Tommy Heuvel who wished to attend school. After that Mr 
Blaxall was informed of another blind child by the Child Life Protec- 
tion Society.'^^ 

Therefore, knowing of four blind Coloured children, Mr Blaxall im- 
mediately called on Adv. R. W. Bowen to discuss the possibility of edu- 
cation for the Coloured blind. Following on this, contact was made 
with other interested persons and as a result a public meeting was held 
in Cape Town on 20 July 1926. With regard to the further course of 
events we quote the following from the fiftieth annual report of the 
Athlone School (1976-1977): 

"From this meeting came a committee which elected an executive 
and thereafter the work progressed apace; funds were collected, a 
loan was raised and a house at Athlone^^was purchased to be the 
first home of the school. A superintendent, Mr S. H. Lawrence, 
was appointed to attend to the administrative work and his wife, 
an experienced teacher of the blind, undertook the educational 
duties. The first school day was Monday, 2nd May 1927, and the 
register contained six names." 
It is interesting to note that the seventh name on the register, entered 



27 



on 19 May 1927, was that of Isaac John Jacobs, who later played an 
important part in connection with the provision of services to the 
blind, and was a foundation member of the League of Friends of the 
Blind. 

On account of the special interest shown in the school by the Earl of 
Athlone, Governor- General of the then Union of South Africa, it was 
named after him. An announcement to this effect was made at the offi- 
cial opening ceremony. 

The full name of the institution was the Athlone School and Work- 
shops for Coloured BHnd Association. ^> The primary objective as to 
provide for the educational needs of Coloured blind children. On ac- 
count of the lack of facilities elsewhere, Indian and Black children were 
for many years admitted to the Athlone School. Post-school training in 
certain trades wa$ also envisaged. 

As the number of pupils increased the accommodation became in- 
adequate, and it was planned to enlarge the building. However, at that 
same time the buildings of St Raphael, a church organization atFaure,^^ 
became available and in June 1928 the school moved to these premises. 
Conditions were not exactly suitable for a school, but there was 
enough space and the school was housed in these buildings from 1928 
until 194 1 . In that year the move to the present modern building com- 
plex in Bellville South took place. 

A person who enthusiastically applied herself to the task of helping 
to estabHsh the school was Miss Mary Helen Currey.^^ She was the first 
treasurer of the School Committee, and in later years the Vice- Chair- 
man until her death in 1958. 

In the Chairman's report of 1929 special reference was also made, 
amongst other things, to the expansion of the trades department. A 
trades instructor in the person of Mr P. R. Botha, who had received his 
training at the Worcester School for the Blind, had been appointed. In 
connection with the work done, the chairman mentioned that bushel 
baskets were produced for use on the wine farms in the vicinity, for 
which there was a great demand. There was also a special type of bas- 
ket designed and made for the De Beers Company, for use in their fac- 
tory at Somerset West. 

This part of the early history of the Athlone School for the Blind is 
concluded at this point, since this section merely deals with the history 
of the services to the blind during the period before the foundation of 
the S.A. National Council for the Blind in 1929. The rest of the history 



28 



of the school will be dealt with in due course, by virtue of the fact that 
it played such an important role in the development of the promotion 
of services to the blind in this country. It should also be mentioned 
here that various persons who were actively concerned with the Ath- 
lone School played a prominent part in the S.A. National Council for 
the Blind. Adv. R. W. Bowen, chairman of the School Committee for 
many years, was also the first chairman of the Council, and acted in 
that capacity until his death in 1948. Rev. A. W. Blaxall as well as Mr 
Marlow, later principal of the school, were also leading figures in the 
Council for many years. These persons who have long since passed 
away, must be honoured for their service to the education of the 
Coloured blind in our country. 

We conclude with a tribute paid to the founders as recorded in the 
fiftieth annual report of the school: 

"... But it is equally clear that from the outset there were three 
persons who from the prominence of the role they played and the 
lead they gave were in a category by themselves. It is these three 
who dovm the years have been honoured as the founders of our 
school and whom we specially remember each Founders' Day: 
Advocate Robert Walter Bowen 
The Rev. Dr. Arthur W. Blaxall 
Miss Mary Helen Currey." 

Other organizations 

During the foundation period of the Council in 1928 and 1929 quite 
a number of organizations commenced their activities. The usual pro- 
cedure was to form a committee and then to open a depot where blind 
home-workers could bring their products to be sold. After that efforts 
followed to set up a workshop. 

The societies which were established during this period were the fol- 
lowing: 

Pretoria Society to Help Civilian Blind 
Port Elizabeth Society for the Blind (Civilian) 
Cape Town Civilian Blind Society 
Civilian Blind Society of the O.F.S. 
East London Society for the Civilian Blind. 
A report on the activities of the above societies will follow in a later 
chapter. 



29 



' The factual content of this section about the founding and earHcr history of the School for the 
Blind at Worcester was taken from the unpublished thesis of Dr P. E. Biesenbach which he sub- 
mitted to the University of Stellenbosch for the degree of D.Ed, in 1942, and from a brochure 
titled SOUVENIR, published in 1931 by the Deaf and Blind Institute on the occasion of its 50th 
anniversary. 

2 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, page 25 - 26. 

» Later on the name is spelt De la Bat, also by Ds. De la Bat, grandson of the abovementioned 
Gert de Labat, who later succeeded his father, Jan de la Bat, as principal of the School for the 
Deaf at Worcester. 

4 Biesenbach, P. E. : Thesis, page 30. 

5 Souvenir (1881 - 1931), page 14. 

6 Biesenbach, P. E. : Thesis, page 3 1 . 

' Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, pages 45 — 46. 

8 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, pages 45 — 56. 

9 Biesenbach, P. E. : Thesis, page 40. 
'"Biesenbach, P. E. : Thesis, page 40. 
"Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, pages 52 — 53. 

12 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, page 53. 

13 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, page 66. 

14 Farrall, G. The Story of Blindness. Harvard University Press, Boston. 

15 The word Asylum was- often used in those days for a school for the blind which had a section for 
resident pupils. Perhaps it was a tradition from the Middle Ages when blind people, on account 
of their social status, were usually housed with the poor and the destitute in asylums or insti- 
tutions. 

16 French, R. S. : From Homer to Helen Keller, page 99. (American Foundation for the Blind, New 
York.) 

17 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, pages 61—62. 

18 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, page 152. 

19 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, page 98. 

20 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, page 99. 

21 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, page 99. 
22. Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, page 61. 

23 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, page 70. 

24 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, pages 69 — 70. 

25 Biesenbach, P. E. : Thesis, pages 69 ~ 70. 

26 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, page 71. 

27 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, page 151. 

28 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, page 153. 

29 Quoted by Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, page 438. 

30 Biesenbacn, P. E.: Thesis, page 105. 

31 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, page 438. 

32 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, page 104. 

33 Biesenbach, P. E.: Thesis, page 104. 

34 Biesenbach, P. E. : Thesis, pages 439 — 440. 

35 Told to the present writer by one of the Marais brothers of Worcester in the thirties. 

'^^ This information was obtained from the Chairman's report of the Natal European and Co- 
loured Civilian Blind Association (1961) as well as from a letter which Mrs A. Niven, a 
daughter of J. E. Palmer, had written to Mrs F. Robertshaw, Assistant secretary of the above 
Association. In general, information about the Association until 1938 is very incomplete. 

^' As inscribed on the corner-stone of the Association's present building. 
The name of the Association was changed to the above in 1942. 

^9 An account of the abovementioned conferences and the establishment of the S.A. National 
Council for the Blind will follow in a later chapter. 

40 Fourth Biennial Report of the National Council (1935-1936) page 68. 

41 Information gained from a talk by MissJ. E. Wood in 1923 (in manuscript form). Also from an 
article in S.A. Libraries (20) 1 15-17. 

42 S.A. Libraries (20) 15-17. This was Miss Gladys Krause. 

43 S.A. Libraries (20) 115-17. Reprint. 

44 An American organization which gave financial assistance to libraries. 
"5 Letter to Miss E. Whitaker by Miss J. E. Wood. 

46 Jubilee edition (1926-1976) of the Johannesburg Society for Civilian Bhnd, page 2. 

47 The proceedings at the conferences and the foundation of the National Council will be elabo- 
rated on later. 



30 



*8 The Cape Town Diocesan Magazine, 15 October 1941. (In possession of the Athlone Scliool 
for the Blmd) 

*9 A W Blaxall: Bhndness his Servant. (A Monograph on the hfe of R. W. Bowen ) 

50 Suburb of Cape Town. 

51 Fiftieth report of^ the School, page 9. 

52 In the district of Stellenbosch. 

" Miss M. H. Currey was the eldest of three Currey sisters who lived at Welgelegen, an estate near 
the Mostert Mill on the outskirts of Cape Town. All three sisters weie at one tirne members of 
the school committee. Mary Currey remained a member up to her death at 94 years. (Told by 
Mr J. R. Solms, retiied principal of the school). ^ 



31 



CHAPTER 2 



CO-ORDINATION AND FOUNDATION 



In the preceding chapter a resume was given of the initial efforts 
which were made with regard to the provision of services for the bhnd 
until approximately the year 1929. This indicated that there was 
enough interest shown to bring a group of persons together for a con- 
ference to co-ordinate the various efforts on a national basis. It was 
clear that the time was ripe for this, for when the idea spread, the re- 
action was remarkably favourable. Everybody was merely waiting for 
someone to take die lead. This duly happened. The person with whom 
the idea first originated was Miss Josephine Ethel Wood, head of the 
National Braille Library (as it was then called) at Grahamstown. It was 
then the only national organization for adult blind people, and she 
had thus come into contact with blind people from all parts of the 
country. As we noted in the previous chapter, there were at the time 
176 readers who made use of the library, and further contact was made 
with approximately 500 others.^ Although the Rev. (later Dr) A. W. 
Blaxall, along with Adv. R. W. Bowen, had a lion's share in the foun- 
daton of the S.A. National Council for the Blind, as will be seen later, 
it was the unassuming, perceptive Miss Wood who had sown the seed 
for its coming into being. Full recognidon of this is found in a letter 
which Dr A. W. Baxall sent to the editor of Imfama, mouthpiece of the 
Nadonal Council. The secdon which deals with the matter is of histori- 
cal interest, and reads as follows: 

"I first met Josie Wood in January 1925 at Port Elizabedi where 
my wife and I were enjoying our first South African holiday. By 
that date I had already started preliminary work which led to the 
establishment of the Athlone School . . . Josie Wood had heard 
of these endeavours and she was also very much aware of the ol- 
dest welfare society for the blind - Our Own Blind Society in 
Durban - as well as several small groups growing up in Cape 
Town, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. Josie came down from 



32 



Grahamstown to Port Elizabeth because the need for co-ordina- 
tion was much on her heart. She told me that in efforts to bring 
together several sub-sections for braille books in local libraries, she 
had been introduced to readers from all over the country. The out- 
come of diat conversaton came two years later at a meeting in Bloern 
fontein which set up two committees - one to draft a constitution for 
a Blind-work Council, and die odier a Council concerning Deaf- 
work. The following year, 1928^ (1929) the two Councils were well 
and truly established." 
Shordy before the meeting between Blaxall and Miss Wood the lat- 
ter delivered a talk on the radio in which she gave an account of the ac- 
tivities of the library for the blind at Grahamstown. In the talk she 
made mention, inter alia, of numerous letters which she had received 
from blind people from different parts of South Africa who needed 
help. It made such an impression on her that she took the opportunity 
to make an appeal to women's organizations to establish committees 
or even societies for the care of the blind. Immediate reaction came 
from Mrs G. K. Nowlan of Johannesburg, Mrs R. P. Hannam of Port 
Elizabeth and Mrs L. Benjamin of of Cape Town. All of them wrote for 
information and advice to start such societies.^ 

Three years elapsed (1925 to 1928) between the meeting of Miss 
Wood with Mr Blaxall and the holding of the conference which took 
place in Bloemfontein in June 1928. As a direct result of Miss Wood's 
contact with interested persons (all of them ladies), societies or com- 
mittees on behalf of the blind were established during that period in 
Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth, while there were stir- 
rings in Cape Town. 

After his meeting with Miss Wood, Mr Blaxall visited the various so- 
cieties and committees, as well as certain individuals who were in- 
volved, in order to sound diem out as to die possibility of calling a confe- 
rence widi a view to die founding of a nadonal co-ordinadng body. 

These visits, which necessarily caused him to travel extensively, were 
made possible by the fact that Mr Blaxall was then the missionary sec- 
retary of the Anglican Church, which took him to different parts of the 
country. 

All organizadons excepting two were enthusiastic about the idea of 
co-ordination and were willing to send representatives to a conference. 
The two which did not join were Our Own Blind Fund Associadon of 
Durban and the Worcester School for the Blind. The former did not 



33 



Miss J. E. Wood, founder of the S.A. Library Dr A. W. Blaxall, co-founder of the S.A. Na- 
for the Bhnd, co-founder of the S.A. National tional Council for the Blind 
Council for the Blind. 




Mr J. J. Prescott-Smith, first Organizing Secretary, with adv. R. W. Bowen at a meeting 
tional Council, 1939, in Durban. 



34 



react to the Rev. Blaxall's letters and also sent no representative. With 
regard to the Worcester School for the Blind, he writes as follows : "I 
went to Worcester and had a long talk with Mr Besselaar, who frankly 
said he was opposed to after-care work as he believed the blind should 
be integrated back into the environment to which they belong."* This 
was evidently a personal decision of Mr Besselaar's and not of the 
Board of Management of the school, since Dr Biesenbach, who suc- 
ceeded Mr Besselaar shortly afterwards, attended the second confer- 
ence, held in March 1929, as the representative of the school.^ 

It is true that the Board of Management was concerned at one stage 
about the raising of funds by the National Council, considering that a 
large section of the country areas was under the impression that the 
Council's street collections were held on behalf of the Worcester 
School. Ds J.S. Murray considered it necessary to give an explanation 
of the situadon in the Kerkbode, mouthpiece of the Nederduitse Gere- 
formeerde Kerk. Gradually the confusion disappeared completely. 
From the outset Dr Biesenbach played a leading role in the activities of 
the Council. He was elected as a member of the Executive Committee 
of Council at the foundation meeting. 

As regards the organizadon in Natal, the real reason for the absence 
of a representative was never given, but affiliation to the Nadonal 
Council did in any case take place later on through die mediadon of 
Advocate R. W. Bowen, Council's first Chairman. 

Before describing the proceedings of the conference it is necessary to 
deal with another aspect of representadon. This concerns the St Dun- 
stan's Society for War-blinded, an organizadon which was brought 
into being in England during the First World War (1914-1918) widi 
branches in the various countries of the former Bridsh Empire and 
later of the Bridsh Commonwealth of Nadons, to which Soudi Africa 
also belonged. 

Dr Blaxall mentions that he was confronted with a great deal of ani- 
mosity from societies for the blind because of the fact that large sums 
of money collected in this country were sent to England for their 
blinded soldiers there.^ Nevertheless Blaxall invited the St Dunstan's 
Society to send a representative to the conference, to which they 
agreed. The assumpdon was that South Africa's war-blinded soldiers 
also formed part of the blind populadon of this country. 

Two persons who were also invited to attend the conference were Dr 
Louis van Schalkwijk, inspector of educadon of the dien Union Educa- 



35 



tion Department, and Advocate R. W. Bowen, blind member of the 
Provincial Council for a Cape constituency. Blaxall considered their 
presence as being indispensable on account of their knowledge of and 
interest in the blind. 

After the necessary arrangements had been made the date for the 
conference was set for 22 June 1928, to be held in the Jubileum Hall, 
Bloemfontein. 

The following were present: 

The Rev. A. W. Blaxall, Cape Town 

Adv. R. W. Bowen, Cape Tovm 

Mr C. C. Church, Kimberley 

Mrs R. P. Hannam, Port Elizabeth 

Mrs T. Hoepner, Pretoria 

Mrs G. K. Nowlan, Johannesburg 

Dr Louis van Schalkwijk, Pretoria 

Mr R. C. Streeten, Bloemfontein 

Mr J. C. van der Walt, Kimberley 

Mrs C. H. Vintcent, George 

Rev. J. D. Vincent, Bloemfontein 

Mrs H. Wiley, Bloemfontein ^ 

Miss J. E. Wood, Grahamstown 

Mr Frank G. Barnes, London, England. 
With regard to the above the following information can be given: 
Mr Barnes was a retired principal of Raynor's School for Blind and 
Deaf Children in Penn, Buckinghamshire, England. He had come to 
South Africa to visit his sister for a few months in Cape Town. He must 
have been a well-known educationist in England, for Blaxall wrote in a 
memorandum published on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniver- 
sary of the foundation of the National Council: "We had the good for- 
tune of his counsel and guidance in preparing an agenda for our Con- 
ference." Dr. van Schalkwijk also referred to him as the "Nestor" of 
education of the blind and deaf in England, whose reputation pre- 
ceded him here.' 

Mr C. C. Church was blind and had a mattress-making business in 
Kimberley. He also trained adult blind people. He even took them in 
as boarders and charged them only a nominal fee. The instruction 
which they received was free of charge. Mr Van der Walt who attended 
the conference with him was one of the persons who had received in- 
struction from him at that time. Van der Walt later made mattresses at 



36 



Kestell, O.F.S. When Mr Church later (approximately in 1934) received 
a new teasing machine from the National Council, he gave his old one 
to Mr Van der Walt.* 

Mrs C. H. Vintcent was head of the St. Dunstan's After-care Depart- 
ment for South African Blinded Soldiers. As part of her work she had 
to visit each of the 18 South African war-blinded men twice a year. 
This took her all over the country. She was in possession of the British 
O.B.E. in recognition of her services. 

Mrs R. P. Hannam was President of the National Council of Women 
and resided at Port Elizabeth. The organization had a sub-committee 
for the care of the handicapped. 

The first task of the meeting was to elect a chairman. Adv. Bowen 
was nominated but he declined. According to the Rev. Arthur Blaxall it 
proved to be a wise decision, because Bowen, as a war-blinded person, 
enjoyed the patronage of St Dunstan's, and at the meeting there were 
heated arguments at times concerning certain aspects of St Dunstan's 
actions. Under those circumstances Bowen would have been placed in 
a very invidious position. The Rev. Blaxall was consequently elected as 
Chairman. 

In connection with this Blaxall writes: 

"I was voted to the Chair after Advocate Bowen had refused 
nomination (wisely, as it proved when a rather acrimonious dis- 
cussion took place about St Dunstan's). I do not know what he 
would have done when Mrs Vintcent, O.B.E., St Dunstan's, and 
Mrs Nowlan of Johannesburg, leapt to their feet and faced each 
other across the table which was as near as they could get to tear- 
ing out each other's eyes - nor do I recall how I got them to sit 
down."^ 

After the Chairman had been elected the meeting was opened with 
prayer by Ds P.J. BoshofF, Moderator of the Orange Free State N.G. 
Church. After that the Deputy Mayor of Bloemfontein, Mr S. Harris, 
welcomed the delegates and expressed the hope that the meeting 
would be successful. 

The Chairman then asked Miss J. E. Wood of the Library for the 
Blind at Grahamstown to act as secretary. She would have to keep the 
minutes of the discussions and resolutions. She was also requested to 
receive all donations for safe-keeping until such time as provision for 
proper bookkeeping could be made. Miss Wood was thus at the outset 
both secretary and treasurer. 



37 



First Conference held in Bloemfontein on 22 July 1928 to establish a S.A. National Council for 
the Blind. Back row: Mr C. C. Church (Kimberley), Adv. R. W. Bowen, M.P.C. (Cape Town), Mrs 
Vincent (George), Dr Louis van Schalkwijk (Pretoria), the Rev A. W. Blaxall (Cape Town), Mr Van 
der Walt (Kimberley), Mr F. G. Barnes (Londen). Front Row: Mrs Hugh Wiley (Bloemfontein), 
Miss J. Wood (Grahamstown), Mrs G. K. Nowlan (Johannesburg), Mrs R. P. Hamman (Port Eli- 
zabeth), Mrs T. Hoepner (Pretoria). 



38 



After the opening formalities the Chairman asked the various dele- 
gates to report to the Conference on the position of blind care in their 
own communities. 

Miss Josie Wood began by giving an account of the work of the Lib- 
rary for the Blind at Grahamstown. She mentioned that the library had 
2 000 braille volumes which were loaned to 176 readers. The Library 
was also in contact with more than 500 blind people. Books for the 
blind were sent through the post at a reducted rate to all parts of South 
Africa and Rhodesia. 

The following speaker was Dr Louis van Schalkwijk who spoke a 
word of welcome on behalf of the then Union Education Department 
(now National Education). He explained, inter alia, that work among 
the blind had already been done at Worcester for the past forty years. 
Since 1925 the Union Education Department had taken responsibility 
for all "defective" children in the country. There was a deficiency in 
the legislation, however, as there was no clause which made education 
for these children compulsory. He doubted whether the education of 
the handicapped could be successful without compulsory education. 
There were also no statistics available, and on account of this it was 
difficult for the Department to undertake a programme of de- 
velopment. Parents were sensitive about making the handicaps of their 
children known, with the result that statistics were unreliable. The Ath- 
lone School for Coloured children had just recently begun. 

Mrs C. H. Vintcent of George then explained the kind of after-care 
work which was being done for war-blinded men. In South Africa at 
that stage there were eighteen returned soldiers from the war of 1914- 
1918 who had been blinded in battle. Her committee aimed at a regu- 
lar income of £2 000 (R4 000) to £3 000 (R6 000) per annum to aid 
these persons, especially with the object of providing for their widows 
and families should they die. A certain Mrs Reid had donated £5 000 
(RIO 000) to the organization during the visit of the Prince of Wales to 
South Africa (1925). From this sum motor cars had been donated to 
three persons. 

After this Mrs G. K. Nowlan of Johannesburg inquired about re- 
ports that large sums of money which were collected in South Africa 
for St Dunstan's were sent abroad. 

Mrs Vintcent replied that during the first year approximately 
£12 000 (R24 000) had been collected. Since then an average of 
£3 000 (R6 000) had been sent out of South Africa yearly. But since 



39 



then the head office of St Dunstan's in London had given her commit- 
tee instructions to retain only 25 per cent of the collected funds. The 
Chairman (Mr Blaxall) also mentioned in his report that there was 
confusion among the public because they were of the opinion that if 
they gave money for St Dunstan's, they were contributing towards the 
work amongst all blind people in South Africa. In all fairness to St 
Dunstan's it must however be mentioned that they always tried to state 
clearly that their collections were intended only for blinded ex-sol- 
diers. In this respect Rev. Blaxall writes: "They (St Dunstan's) have al- 
ways been scrupulously careful to explain that their collections are not 
for the civilian blind of the Union". For this reason the terms "civilian 
blind" and "war-blinded" came into use. Today we still use the con- 
notation "civilian blind" in connection with most of our societies for 
the blind. 

Although the report of the Conference did not make mention of the 
wrangles which took place among some of the delegates, it is true that, 
according to Mr Blaxall's remarks, there was a serious difference of 
opinion over the activities of St Dunstan's as regards their fundraising. 
With regard to affiliation, St Dunstan's of South Africa did not have 
the authority to affiliate with the proposed S.A. National Council for 
the Blind. 

After this Mrs G. K. Nowlan described the work which was being 
done by the Johannesburg After-care Committee. It had been esta- 
blished about two years previously as a result of a radio talk by Miss 
Wood. The Committee had already made contact with 69 blind 
people. Most of the workers had been trained at Worcester and worked 
at their homes. The After-care Committee undertook the task of taking 
in stock all the completed articles which the blind had made, and sell- 
ing them on their behalf. This would ensure that the marketing of the 
articles would be more profitable. The aim was to establish an Institute 
for the Blind in Johannesburg. 

Mrs T. Hoepner of Pretoria reported that the Pretoria Committee 
had been established in July 1927. They were in contact with 17 blind 
people in Pretoria and with a few in the rural districts. They also had 
taken orders for their blind workers, and had undertaken the market- 
ing of the completed articles. 

As regards Port Elizabeth, Mrs R. P. Hannam reported that there 
was no after-care work for the blind, but the National Council of 



40 




Extract from the Cape Times of 27 August: 1937 : "In the picture above, blind workers from the 
Cape Town Civihan Bhnd Society are seen leaving their work, led by an escort who carries a red 
tlag ot warnmg to motorists as he takes them down to the station to catch their trains." 



41 



Women had estabHshed a sub-committee with the object of promoting 
the interests of the bhnd. 

With regard to Cape Town, Adv. Bowen answered as follows when 
the Chairman asked him what was being done there for the blind: 
"That is very easy. In Cape Town nothing is being done." The fact of 
the matter was that work for adult'' blind only began late in 1928 ac- 
cording to the testimony of Miss Marjorie Watson. She writes as fol- 
lows:'^ 

"One day in May, 1928, I received a phone call from Lil Bowen 
asking if I would like to join her in starting a litde society for the 
benefit of a number of blind persons whom she had discovered 
being in seclusion in the Peninsula ... Lil Bowen and I were 
equally excited when, on September 6th of the same year, the first 
meeting was held to inaugurate our work for the blind." 
Adv. Bowen continued by mentioning the important work done by 
St Dunstan's of which he was very proud. He also stated that St Dun- 
stan's would not exist for always. "It would die out with the last in- 
cumbents. Soldiers who turned blind from now onwards would have 
to be treated as civilian blind. He hoped therefore that the Conference 
would appreciate the needs of the civilian blind." Thus the report. 

Circumstances sadly proved to be different. Nobody could foresee at 
that time that St Dunstan's, twenty years after the declaration of peace 
which ended the First World War, would again have to play a leading 
role on behalf of a later group of war-blinded soldiers during the 
Second World War (1939 - 1945). Today, thirty-four years later, St 
Dunstan's still has a task to fulfil. It has not yet ceased to exist. 

Mrs H. Wiley of the Orange Free State spoke about the role which 
the Girl Guides had played in inviting blind girls to join their move- 
ment. There was as yet no organization for the care of the blind in the 
province. 

Mr Frank G. Barnes of England then addressed the Conference. He 
laid special emphasis on those matters which were of immediate im- 
portance to South Africa. Firstly he pointed out that compulsory edu- 
cation for blind children between the ages of five and sixteen years had 
already existed in England since 1894. Secondly he mentioned that 
some of them had been given the opportunity to study at universities 
through bursaries which were made available by the authorities. 
Thirdly there was a register of all blind persons in England, with a 
pension scheme. Opportunities to be employed in ordinary industries 



42 



were created, with the result that there were 46 000 bUnd persons in 
open labour in England and Wales at that time. He stressed the fact 
that profitable work for the blind had to be the aim. Finally he ex- 
pressed the hope that the blind of South Africa would be an asset to the 
country through their usefulness. 

When the Conference resumed in the afternoon, Mrs R. P. Hannam 
of Port Elizabeth submitted the following resolution :- 

"That this Conference of representatives from various organiza- 
tions working on behalf of the blind of South Africa, is of the 
opinion that the time has arrived for the formation of the 
National Council for the Welfare of the Blind in South Africa." 
In her motivation she said, inter alia, that co-ordination of effort 
was absolutely essential in the interests of the blind of our country. She 
drew attention to the fact that there was still confusion among the pub- 
lic as regards the position of St Dunstan's. Many still thought that St 
Dunstan's acted on behalf of all blind people in South Africa. Perso- 
nally she desired to see one combined organization formed, something 
in the form of a national institute which would not discourage private 
enterprise. 

Mrs H. Wiley seconded the motion. 

During the discussion the question of co-operation with the St Dun- 
stan's organization was again raised. The following is quoted from the 
report of the proceedings of the Conference: 

"Mrs Vintcent said she disired to make it quite clear that St Dun- 
stan's was concerned only with blinded soldiers. She has no 
authority to say that St Dunstan's could be incorporated in a 
National Council for the Civilian Blind. That had to be decided 
by Captain Eraser, the head of St Dunstan's." 
Later in the report the following appears: 

"Mrs Vintcent suggested that it should be made abundantly clear 
that the National Council would be concerned only with civilian 
blind. She did not want the work of St Dunstan's prejudiced 
through a misunderstanding." 
Advocate Bowen's comment was that St Dunstan's interests lay only 
with blinded ex-soldiers, of whom there were 18 in the country at that 
time. It should not keep the Conference from establishing an organiza- 
tion which would take care of the interests of thousands of blind 
people. He repeated that as soon as the last beneficiary died, St Dun- 
stan's in South Africa would cease to exist. Then the residue of the 



43 



fund in its possession might be applied to the benefit of the bHnd in 
general. But that was a matter for the future. 

The question which was debated after this - with Mrs Nowlan to the 
fore - was whether the proposed National Council would indeed be 
national in the fullest sense of the word should such a big organization 
as St Dunstan's stay outside. 

The mover (Mrs R. P. Hannam) said she preferred not to qualify her 
resolution. The Rev. J. D. Vincent of Bloemfontein also expressed the 
view that it would be a contradiction in terms to qualify the word 
"national". The feeling was thus fairly general that all organizations 
should show their willingness to become affiliated and in this way 
make the body truly "national". But to this the Chairman replied that 
no one had a mandate from his or her organization to commit the lat- 
ter to affiliation. The organizatons would have to decide on the ques- 
tion of affiliation themselves. 

Adv. Bowen thereupon moved that the matter should not be com- 
plicated by all kinds of qualifying clauses and other obstructions. He 
heartily supported the resolution. Mrs Hannam's resolution was there- 
upon unanimously carried. 

Immediately after this Adv. Bown moved that a sub-committee be 
appointed to draw up a draft constitution. The following were ap- 
pointed: Rev. A.W. Blaxall, Adv. R.W. Bowen, Mr R. C. Streeten and 
Dr L. Van Schalkwijk. The draft constitution would be discussed and 
finalised at the next Conference which would take place in Cape Town 
at the beginning of the following year ( 1929) during the parliamentary 
session. 

Two important matters occupied the attention of the Conference 
after this. The one was the question of finances and the other the auto- 
nomy of the varous societies. 

In the first place it was decided that one day of the year should be set 
aside for fundraising, and at the same time to focus public attention 
on the needs of the blind in the community. After different dates had 
been discussed it was decided on the first Saturday in May. 

Mrs Vintcent again stressed the non-alignment of St Dunstan's and 
explained that St Dunstan's could not participate in collections on such 
a day. Thus, instead of the name South African Blind Day, Mrs Nowlan 
proposed that the day be know as S.A. Blind (Civilian) Day.^^ 

That opinions were strongly divided, is shown by a tie in the voting. 
The resolution was however defeated by the Chairman's casting vote. A 



44 



resolution was passed that the day be known as South African Bhnd 
Day»* 

In connection with the autonomy of societies both the Chairman 
and Adv. Bowen stressed that there should be no interference in the ac- 
tivities or finances of individual societies. 

Towards the end the Conference passed certain resolutions, the ob- 
jectives of which were briefly as follows: 

(a) that the blind be visited and their needs be determined; 

(b) that braille and trades be taught to those unable to go to 
Worcester, and orders for their work obtained; 

(c) that functions be arranged in order to exhibit and sell finished 
articles; that displays be arranged at industrial shows and de- 
pots opened where articles could be sold; 

(d) that a home teacher be appointed to visit especially those per- 
sons who had become blind in adult life; 

(e) that sighted persons be interested to learn braille, and to pass 
the test either in Afrikaans or in English, urging in this con- 
necton that an Afrikaans primer be prepared and published. 

After motions of thanks to the Chairman and Miss. J. Wood the 
meeting adjourned. 

In a later report on the Conference Rev. Blaxall made special men- 
tion of the good spirit and the feeling of solidarity which had pre- 
vailed. 

In the meantime the sub -committee apointed to draft the consti- 
tution proceeded with its task, while Miss J. Wood continued to do the 
secretarial work and to make arragements for convening the second 
Conference in Cape Town. 

The second or continuation Conference was held in the committee 
room of the Argus Building in Cape Town on Monday 18 March 1929. 

The minutes of this Conference are handwritten in the typical 
strongly bound minute book of those days. Fortunately the book was 
preserved and today it is a very valuable document, especially for the 
researcher. Later on the minutes were typed and pasted in the book. 

The attendance list at the beginning of the minutes shows a marked 
increase in the number of delegates. Mention was made of the exis- 
tence of various societies which came into being during the recess of 
nine months between the two conferences. 

For historical reasons it is necessary to give the list precisely as it was 
reported in the handwritten minutes: 



45 




46 



"The delegates were as follows: 

The Educaton Departement - Dr L. van Schalkwijk 

The Departement of the Interior - Dr M. L. Fick 

The Department of Labour - R. Beattie, Esq. 

The National Council of Child Welfare - Mrs A. E. Horwood 

The School for the Blind, Worcester - P. E. Biesenbach, Esq. 

The Athlone School for the Blind - Mr S. H. Lawrence and Mrs 

Lawrence 

The Society for the Welfare of the Blind, Johannesburg - Mrs G. 
K. Nowlan 

The Civilian Blind Society, Pretoria - Mrs T. Hoepner 

The Civilian Blind Society, Port Elizabeth - Mrs R. P. Hannam 

The Civilian Blind Society, Cape Town - Mrs R. W. Bowen 

The Blinded Soldiers After Care Society - C. H. Vintcent, Esq. 

The Afrikaanse Christelike Vroueverenging - Mrs A. L. Geyer 

Die Oranje Vroue Vereniging - Mrs F. X. Roome 

The Extension Branch, the Girl Guides - Mrs Campbell 

The Nat. Council Constitution Committee - Adv. R. W. Bowen 

The Nat. Council Constitution Committee (appd.-1928) - Rev 

A. W. Blaxall." 

The above names are exactly as they appear in the handwritten 
mmutes. A typed copy of the list of delegates and those invited to at- 
tend was pasted next to it, and is probably more complete. The follow- 
ing names were added: 

"National Library for the Blind, Gahamstown - Miss. J. Wood 

Suid-Afrikaanse Vroue Federasie - Mrs Rhodes 

Helpmekaar Vereniging - Mrs H. Roux 

Armesorg Kommissie - Rev. P. J. Perold 

Transvaal Agricultural Women's (Association) - Mrs Neethling 

National Council of Women - Mrs Nowlan." 
To this was added a list of 15 persons who were invited in their pri- 
vate capacity on account of their interest in the blind. Among them 
were Mr C. Church of Kimberley who had attended the first Confer- 
ence at Bloemfontein, Mr W. P. Marais of Robertson, Mrs E. Green- 
wood, wife of Mr Harold Greenwood, music tacher at the Worcester 
School for the Blind, Mrs M. Schermbrucker of Stellenbosch, wife of 
the then magistrate of Stellenbosch and mother of Mr Gerald Scherm- 
brucker, well-known physiotherapist, and Mr A. Kirstein, war-blinded 
physiotherapist. He attended the Worcester School for the Blind for 



47 



some time after he had became bHnd. There were thus ahogether 37 
persons present at the second Conference in comparison with 14 at the 
first. The interest in, and services to the bUnd had thus grown conside- 
rably during the preceding nine months. 

In connection with the accuracy of the names list it will be noted that 
in the written minutes Mrs Campbell is mentioned as being the rep- 
resentative of the Extension Branch, Girl Guides, whereas in the typed 
copy the representative was given as Mrs Baker. Mrs Geyer was the wife 
of Dr A. L. Geyer, the editor of Die Burger at that time, and later the 
High Commissoner in London. Mrs Roome was the wife of the well 
known Ds. F. X. Roome of Cape Town. It is also noteworthy that Mr 
(later Dr) P. E. Biesenbach, principal of the Worcester School for the 
Blind, attended the Conference, considering that his predecessor, Mr 
M. J. Besselaar, was not prepared to attend the first one. It is clear that 
a change had come about in the viewpoint of the Worcester School 
with the advent of the new principal. He assumed duty in the period 
between the two conferences, in January 1929. The Natal organization 
"Our Own Blind Fund Association" sent no respresentative. 

No information could be found anywhere of how it had happened 
that the various bodies which had no direct contact with the blind were 
represented at the Conference. Here we think especially of organiza- 
tions such as Die Afrikaanse Christelike Vrouevereniging, Die Oranje 
Vrouevereniging, Die S. A. Vroue-Federasie, Die Helpmekaar-vereni- 
ging. Die Armesorg-Kommissie van die N.G. Kerk, and Die Trans- 
vaalse Vroue-landbouvereniging. The Federal Council of Dutch 
Churches was invited, but a letter of apology from Ds. J. P. van Heer- 
den was read to say that he could not attend. 

It was indeed stated at the beginning of the minutes of the Confer- 
ence : "The Rev. A. W. Blaxall explained briefly how the Conference 
came to be convened," but there is no futher evidence about the 
specific manner in which the Conference was constituted. 

It is presumed that Miss Wood, who made the arranements for the 
Conference, had consulted Dr Biesenbach in connection with likely 
people and bodies who could be invited to attend. There had always 
been very close links between the S.A. Library for the Blind and the 
Worcester School for the Blind. 

Before a chairman was elected, the Rev. Blaxall announced that Dr 
D. F. Malan, Minister of Union Education at the time, who would have 



48 



opened the Conference was unfortunately prevented from doing so, 
and that he had asked Dr S. F. N. Gie, Secretary for Union Education, 
to act in his place. 

Dr Gie conveyed the good wishes of Dr Malan for the successful 
functioning of the Conference and for its future activities. Dr Gie ex- 
pressed his personal appreciation for the interest shown in the blind. 
He stated further that the Government was well aware of its responsi- 
bilities and was prepared to do its utmost to further the efforts made 
by granting subsidies where they appeared to be necessary. He warned 
however that the Conference should not pass resolutions and measures 
which the Department, however willing to help, could not approve. 
"Festina lente" should be the watchword.'^ 

Mr Blaxall asked Dr Gie to preside at the meeting until a chairman 
had been elected. 

After being proposed by Adv. Bowen, the Rev. Blaxall was unani- 
mously voted to the Chair. Ds Perold was elected as Deputy Chairman 
and Miss Wood and Mr Lawrence as secretaries. 

The first question which had to be settled was who were eligible to 
take part in the discussions, and therefore entitled to vote. Apparently 
there was a fair amount of discussion about this, to judge by the pro- 
posals and amendments which were submitted. Eventually it was de- 
cided that all persons who had received an invitation to attend the 
Conference would be entitled to take part in the discussions and to 
vote, but only those delegates from accredited societies or persons who 
worked directly on behalf of the blind would have the right to vote on 
matters relating to the constitution. The printed report of the Confer- 
ence which was held in Bloemfontein on 22 June 1928 was regarded as 
the minutes. It was taken as read and approved. 

After this the financial statement of receipts and expenditure was 
read. 

This document, which was affixed to the minutes, is interesting, even 
if only to show on what a small scale the work had begun. Of course it 
IS not always possible to assess the growth of the work by the revenue 
and expenditure, but it is a good indication. Here follows the first 
complete financial statement: 



49 



STATEMENT OF ACCOUNTS 



£ s d 



Receipts 

Sent to Miss Wood: 

Sept. 18th (per Mrs Hannam) 

Nov. 27 th (per Mrs Bowen) 

Sent to Rev. A. W. Blaxall: 

Various small sums 

March 8th (per Johannesburg) 

March 8th (per Pretoria) 



Expenditure 

Aug. 16th Penny stamps 

Halfpenny stamps 
Sept. 1st Halfpenny stamps 
Aug. 16th (Grocott Sc Sherry) printing 2 000 pamphlets 
Aug. 8th (Grocott Sc Sherry) 1 000 envelopes 
Aug. 13th (Grocott & Sherry) 1 000 envelopes 
Sept. 6th (Grocott Sc Sherry) printing 500 copies 
Oct. 1st Stamps 
Nov. 6th Stamps 
Nov. 27 th Exchange on cheque 



Received £95 19 0 (R191,90) 

Expended £22 2 0 (R 44,20) 

Balance in hand £73 17 0 (R147,70) 

The expenditure was approved by the Conference, and the financial 
statement was accepted. The Conference then voted £40 (R80) for of- 
fice expenses for the following year. 

It should however be realised that the money received came without 
any organized fundraising and without an office or paid staff. A sum- 
mary of the financial statement will be given later, as reflected in the 
biennial report of 1931. 

It is regrettable that no record was kept of the contents of the "2 000 
pamphlets" or the "500 copies" which were printed and were specified 
as expenditure in the financial statements. The published report of the 
first Conference (12 pages) was printed by Grocett and Sherry, Gra- 



28 3 6 

25 0 6 

2 0 0 

25 0 0 

15 15 0 

£ 95 19 0 



4 


10 


0 


1 


5 


0 




5 


0 


10 


16 


0 


1 


1 


0 


1 


1 


0 


2 


13 


9 




5 


0 




4 


0 




1 


3 



£ 22 2 ^ 



50 



inutes, 



(Fascimile of original mil 
Wednesday - 20th The Conference resumed its sitting at 9.30 a m 
The Mmutes were read and confirmed 
Draft Constitution Clauses 3 & 4 
These were presented in an amended form. 
After some discussion and a shght further amendment adopted 
The whole Constitution in its amended form (as attached to these minutes) 
Proposed by Mrs Nowlan, Mr Lawrence seconded that it be adpoted - agreed 
This bnngs mto existence The National Council 



51 



hamstown, and it is possible that 500 copies were produced. The ques- 
tion is why such a large number of the report, and further, why as 
many as 2 000 pamphlets? Of these, according to our knowledge, not 
a single copy exists today. It is likely that the pamphlet was meant for 
publicity purposes. 

The next matter to be dealt with was the draft constitution as drawn 
up by the sub-committe appointed for the purpose by the Bloemfon- 
tein Conference. The draft constitution as well as the one which was 
approved were both incorporated in the minutes of the Cape Town 
Conference. That the committee did its work well is evident from the 
fact that only a few amendments were necessary. The chief problem 
appears to have been the membership of the Council. The two clauses 
in question were referred back to the sub-committee for reconsidera- 
tion. The following morning (Wednesday 20 March, 1928) they were 
approved. 

It is understandable that amendments and additions would neces- 
sarily have had to be made through the years according to the de- 
mands of the times and as a result of the growth and expansion of the 
services, but fundamentally the first constitution differs only slightly 
from the present one. If one looks at the section "Aims and functions", 
it appears to have stayed basically the same down the years. A dis- 
tinguishing feature of the first constitution was the emphasis placed on 
the expansion of services and on the gathering of information and data 
on blindness in general. 

Furthermore the constitution reflects certain conditions which 
existed in the form of gaps which still had to be filled. There were at 
the time no specific legislation, no compulsory education, and no or- 
ganized efforts for the prevention of blindness. 

The prospect of legislation was held out in clause 2(d) which read as 
follows : 

"To take steps as may be necessary for securing the proper ad- 
ministration of all Acts of Parliament and ordinances dealing 
with the blind, and to promote any legislation that may be 
considered necessary for the general welfare of the blind." 
The absence of compulsory education for the handicapped was the 
reason why no fewer than four clauses involved the education of the 
blind. We quote the clauses in question: 

"2(g) To endeavour to obtain statistical data regarding the Blind, 
particularly in connection with children of schoolgoing age. 



52 



2(h) To investigate any questions or proposals with reference to 
the education, training, employment or well-being of the 
Blind, or otherwise affecting their interests. 
2(i) To give advice, counsel and assistance to the Blind, and to 
those charged or concerned with their education, training, 
employment, or well-being. 
2(j) To promote all secondary and higher education, vocational 
as well as academic, for the Blind, when the interests of the 
Blind demand or justify it." 

Dr Louis van Schalkwijk's contribution is clearly seen in this 
section of the constitution. As inspector of special education of the 
then Union Department of Education, he was indeed busy with 
representations for the establishment of a system for compulsory 
education for deaf and blind children. A clause such as 2(g) would 
strengthen his hand because a State Department usually requires 
statistics to evaluate the extent of a project before a decision can be 
made. In connection with this section of the constitution, 2(j) gives 
us a good insight into the matter. Although the matriculation 
course was first introduced into a school for the blind in South Af- 
rica only in 1943, such a development, as well as university train- 
ing, was then already held in prospect. 

As a whole therefore the sub-committee concerned with the 
drawing up of the draft constitution showed an extraordinary in- 
sight as to what the future should hold in respect of matters per- 
taining to the welfare of the blind. This must be due to the back- 
ground and knowledge of the persons who took the initiative in 
those days. Consequently it appears that the time was ripe for the 
co-ordination and expansion of the work. The discussions, resol- 
utions and reports of that time (as also reflected in the consti- 
tution) show that everyone was ready for purposeful action on be- 
half of all sections of the blind community. All the more reason 
therefore that we should pay tribute to Miss J. Wood and Dr A. W. 
Blaxall, who did yeoman service and for many years after con- 
tinued with it; and secondly to Adv. R. W. Bowen, Dr Louis van 
Schalkwijk, Mr P. E. Biesenbach, Mrs J. M. Pienaar, Mrs H. Wiley, 
Mrs G. K. Nowlan, Mrs L. Bowen and Miss A. Gillies - all of 
whom were in the forefront. 

After the constitution had been approved the Conference con- 



53 



tinued with discussions on the welfare of the blind in general and 
important resolutions were taken. A summary of the resolutions 
follows here. They are tabulated in the minutes under the head- 
ing: "Findings of the Conference". 

The first resolution dealt with the necessity of compulsory edu- 
cation for the blind. 

The second resolution dealt with the necessity of regular medi- 
cal inspection in ordinary schools with a view to identifying chil- 
dren with eye and sight problems. 

Resolution no. 3 was concerned with the definition of blind- 
ness. It read as follows: 

"Definition of blindness: That this Conference considers that 
for educational and non-educational purposes the following 
definitions be adopted respectively: 

(a) too blind to read ordinary school books; 

(b) too blind to be able to do work for which eyesight is 
essential." 

The fourth resolution had four sections. It dealt mainly with the 
education of blind children, the training of teachers, adult education 
and provision of some kind for the mentally handicapped blind child. 

The fifth resolution stressed the necessity for the appointment of 
home teachers. The conference requested the government to appoint 
itinerant home teachers and to subsidise their posts. 

An appeal was also made to interested persons to learn braille so 
that handv^itten books could be transcribed for the National Library 
for the Blind. 

Concerning finances, the resolution of the Bloemfontein Conference 
was confirmed namely that a country-wide fundraising campaign 
should be launched annually on the first Saturday in May. It would be 
called: Our Blind Day. The aim was not only to raise funds, but also to 
spread information about blindness throughout the country. Local 
committees should be formed to make the necessary arrangements. It 
was suggested, inter alia, that churches should be asked to have special 
sermons preached about blindness, and to organize collections on be- 
half of the National Council on the following Sunday. It was also de- 
cided that all moneys should be sent to the office of the National 
Council, which would then refund a sum not exceeding 50 % of the 
amount to the organising committee.This money would be used locally 
for the benefit of the blind in that community, according to their needs. 



54 



After this the activities of the Conference came to an end. After the 
customary votes of thanks were passed, the Chairman asked Ds Roome 
to close with prayer. At 4 p.m. the Conference adjourned. 

The first meeting of the newly constituted South African National 
Council for the Blind started immediately after this, and the minutes 
reveal that it took place at 4 o'clock on Wednesday, 20th March 1929 
in the conference hall of the Argus Building, St George's Street, Cape 
Town. 

It thus appears that there was no break between the two meetings. 
The Conference closed at 4 p.m., and the Council meeting started at 4 
p.m. 

Adjacent to this section is a reproduction of a page of the mi- 
nutes of the first meeting of the S.A. National Council for the Blind. It 
will be noted that the initial task was to constitute the Council properly 
by inviting requests for affiliation to the Council. Such a procedure 
was necessary in view of the fact that the Council was co-ordinative, 
and could not exist without its affiliated bodies. Six bodies affiliated 
immediately and the seventh (Worcester Institute for the Blind) did so 
conditionally. Dr Biesenbach explained that he was indeed applying 
for affiliation but that the application was subject to confirmation by 
the Board of Management of the Worcester Institute for the Deaf and 
the Blind. 

Applications for representation on the Council were then invited 
and eight persons applied on behalf of their various bodies. Two per- 
sons, Dr L. van Schalkwyk and Dr M. L. Fick, announced that they of- 
ficially represented State Departments, namely Union Education and 
Interior respectively. 

The following is the first group of bodies'^ which were affiliated to 
the S.A. National Council, in the order in which they were recorded in 
the minutes, with the names of the persons who applied : 

The Athlone School for the Blind, Cape Town, by Adv. R. W. Bowen 
M.P.C. 

The Johannesburg Institute for Blind Workers, by Mrs G. K. Now- 
lan. 

Committee for the Care of the Blind, Port Elizabeth, by Mrs R. P. 
Hannam. 

Committee for the Care of the Blind, Pretoria, by Mrs T. Hoepner. 
The Cape Society for Civilian Blind, by Mrs L. Bowen. 



55 



S.A. National Library for the Blind, Grahamstown, by Miss J. 
Wood. 

Institute for the Blind, Worcester, by Mr P. E. Biesenbach, (subject 
to confirmation by the Board of Management). 

Applications for representation' ' on the National Council lor the 
Blind: 

Die Algemene Armesorg Kommissie van die N.G. Kerk, by Ds P. J. 
Perold. 

The National Council for Child Welfare, by Dr L. van Schalkwijk. 
The National Council of Women, by Mrs R. P. Hannam. 
Subject to confirmation by their various committees, also the fol- 
lowing: 

Die Afrikaanse Christelike Vrouevereniging, by Mrs Geyer. 

Die Oranje-vrouevereniging. (It is not clear who proposed; it may 
possibly have been Mrs Visser). 

Die S. A. Vroue-federasie, by Mrs Rhodes. 

Die Helpmekaar-vereniging, by Ds F. X. Roome. 

Mrs E. Kayser applied on behalf of the Provinsional Committee of 
East London, either for affiliation or for representation according to 
the ruling of the Council. 

After the applications for affiliation and representation were con- 
cluded, the Rev. A. W. Blaxall asked for nominations for a Chairman. 

First Mr Blaxall and then Ds Perold were nominated by Adv. Bowen 
but both declined. After this Adv. Bowen was nominated and he 
agreed to accept the chairmanship. The following morning, however, 
when the Council again met. Adv. Bowen informed the meeting that 
he did not see his way clear to accept the chairmanship. The minutes 
read as follows: 

"The Chairman stated that he felt the duties of directing the work of 
the Council would be more than he could undertake and so begged to 
tender his resignation." 

After persuasion by the members of Council, and the assurance 
given him that he had a free hand to make any arrangements he might 
think fit with regard to secretarial work (until a secretary was ap- 
pointed), he expressed his appreciation for the trust that was put in 
him, and withdrew his resignation. His decision was met with unani- 
mous approval. 

After the election of the Chairman, nominations were invited for a 
Deputy Chairman and five members of the Executive Committee. The 



56 



following members were elected: 
Chairman: Adv. R. W. Bowen 
Deputy Chairman: Ds P. J. Perold 
Executive Committee: 
Mrs G. K. Nowlan 
Mr P. E. Biesenbach 
Dr L. van Schalkwijk 

Rev. A. W. Blaxall (From May to October 1929, with Miss J. 
Wood as alternate) 

A representative of the Oranje-Vroue-vereniging. 

The reason for the last nominee was probably to comply with the 
clause in the constitution which stipulated that everything possible 
should be done to have a representative from each province on the 
Executive Committee. It is likely that Natal was not taken into con- 
sideration because the Natal Society for the Blind stood aloof and was 
not represented at either of the two conferences. 

Following this, the appointment of a permanent secretary occupied 
the attention of the Committee. The Executive Committee was in- 
structed to make arrangements for such an appointment. Mr Blaxall 
agreed to act as temporary secretary in the interim up to the end of 
April 1929. 

Two other matters, namely the nomination of honorary officials, 
and the venue of head office were referred to the Executive Committee. 

The Council adjourned at five o'clock and assembled again the fol- 
lowing morning, Thursday 21 March, at 9.30 in a room of the Huge- 
note-gedenkteken in Victoria Street, Cape Town. 

The Council once more considered the resolution concerning the 
national day for the blind, and decided that more than 50% could be 
refunded to the local committees or societies depending on the activi- 
ties of the organization. Application for this should be made to the 
Executive Committee. 

An interesting resolution was taken in regard to the centenary of the 
braille system. The resolution, according to the minutes, read as fol- 
lows: 

"That this Council do here record its most sincere appreciation of 
the life and work of Louis Braille, by means of which happiness 
has been brought to hundreds of blind people in South Africa in 
common with blind people throughout the world. A copy of this 
resolution to be sent to the N.I.B.'« in London." 



57 



Another important resolution which was taken by the Council at its 
meeting dealt with the treatment of expectant mothers with venereal 
disease which might damage the eyes of newborn babies, as well as the 
treatment of cases with the disease ophthalmia neonatorum. The 
Council requested all societies, organizations and local authorities 
which were concerned with maternity and child welfare services to 
make certain that the necessary expert treatment was given, especially 
to syphilitic and gonorrheal expectant mothers and affected newly 
born babies. It was also decided to bring the matter to the attention of 
the National Council for Child Welfare and the Departement of 
Health. The latter was requested to launch a campaign in connection 
with the proper care of the eyes of newly born infants. 

Thus we find, even at the first meeting of the Council, an urgent in- 
volvement with one aspect of the prevention of blindness which later 
would become one of the most important facets of the National Coun- 
cil's activities. We also meet with the initial effort to seek contact with 
the Department of Health, with which the Council would work closely 
throughout the years, especially after the establishment of the Bureau 
for the Prevention of Blindness. 

All other matters which were discussed at the meeting were referred 
to the Executive Committee for further attention. 

After resolutions had been passed concerning the signing of che- 
ques, documents and contracts as required by the bank and the law, 
the meeting adjourned. 

In this chapter the available sources were consulted to sketch the 
events which led up to die foundation of the South African National 
Council for the Blind. One gets the impression from the discussions 
which took place at the meetings and the documents which resulted 
from them that the persons concerned possessed a thorough back- 
ground and knowledge of the matters which had to be dealt with. The 
group of people involved in the work of the Council, namely Adv. 
Bowen, Dr Louis van Schalkwijk, Mr (later Dr) Biesenbach, Miss Josie 
Wood and Rev (later Dr) A. W. Blaxall, for many years after the estab- 
lishment of the Council remained closely connected with it and all of 
them dedicated their lives to the service of the blind. At the time of the 
establishment of the Council they were already well conversant with 
most facets of blind welfare work and were thus no new-comers to the 
field. Dr Van Schalkwijk had already been abroad where he had made 
a study of the various aspects of disability, physical as well as mental. 



58 



For many years he was inspector of special education, was acquainted 
with the Hterature and could be regarded as an authority in this field. 
Advocate Bowen was made aware of the urgency for rehabilitation for 
the blind through St Dunstan's which, under the leadership of persons 
such as Sir Arthur Pearson and Captain (later Lord) Fraser, became the 
leading international organization for the blind. Mr Biesenbach had 
just returned from abroad where he had undertaken a comprehensive 
study tour in connection with the education and employment of the 
blind. Dr Blaxall had extensive experience of blind welfare work in 
Britian. Miss Josie Wood had already been occupied for ten years with 
her work at the lending library for the blind, but did not confine her- 
self to that alone. She also concerned herself with the lot of the many 
blind people in South Africa who led a difficult life. It is thus no won- 
der that the Council was destined to go from strength to strength, as 
can be proved by the activities of the Executive Committee which held 
no fewer than seven meetings during the two years between the first 
and second meeting of the Council. The next chapter will be devoted 
to the period immediately following. It will include a resume of the 
preliminary work for legislation which resulted in the passing of the 
Blind Person's Act by Parliament in 1936. 

1 Pamphlet: Care of South Africa's Blind, by the Rev. A. W. Blaxall. 

2 This is an error. The date should be 1929. 

3 Blaxall, A. W. : Blindness his Servant, published by the S.A. National Council for the Blind Preto- 
ria, 1949. Page 16. 

4 Quotation from a memorandum which Dr Blaxall wrote in connection with the foundation of a 

Founders Trust which was established on his recommendation in 1970 in memory of the 
tounders of the National Council in 1929. 

5 From the minutes of the second conference held in Cape Town in March 1929 

6 Memorandum of Dr Blaxall with regard to the establishment of "Founders' Trust" 1970 

' ni J ^' ■ of^outh Africa's Blind, published in 1929 by the S.A. National Council for the 
Blind, Cape Town. This contains a report of the proceedings of the Bloemfontein conference 
Most ot the information which follows was obtained from this report. 

s Minutes of the Executive Committee meeting of 2nd December 1931 page 5 

' ;^emorandum by Dr Blaxall about the establishment of a "Founders' Trust", written in August 
1970, page 3. ^ 

•0 Blaxall: Care of South Africa's Blind. 

" The Athlone School for Blind Children had been in existence since 1927 
'2 Watson, M. T.: Kindly Light, published by the writer, page 36. 
13 Report of Conference held 22 June 1928, page II. 
'* Later it was changed to: Our Blind Day. 

'5 It is to be understood that Dr Gie would have a special interest in efforts for the furtherance of 
the cause of the blind. According to Dr Biesenbach (quoted before) Dr Gie's father and mother 
had been house master and matron of the hostel for blind boys at Worcester from 1897-1910 
Dr Gie who was their youngest son, spent his boyhood years among the blind boys. 
The names of the organizations are given precisely as they are recorded in the minutes of the 
meeting. 

n Today these organizations are known as associate members of the Council. They are organiza- 
tions which besides their normal functions, are also concerned with the care of the blind. 
N.LB. stands for National Institute for the Blind, a large and important organization with its 
headquarters London. Some years ago the name was changed to the Royal National Instimte 



59 



CHAPTER 3 



EARLY YEARS AND LEGISLATION 
1929 TO 1936 



IT is evident from the resolutions which were taken at the Conference 
in Cape Town and afterwards at the foundation meeting, that the S.A. 
National Council for the Blind had set itself a formidable and all-em- 
bracing task. The resolutions covered a wide spectrum of services to 
the blind. One can fully understand this, considering that there was an 
immense backlog which had to be made up. The Executive Committee, 
to which many of the resolutions were referred, realised however, that 
its first priority should be administrative. An office had to be set up 
and equipped and administrative personnel appointed. Lmked with 
this was the quesuon of fundraising. No organization of any size can 
function properly without the assurance of having sufficient funds. 

The first task was the appointment of a secretary. The Chairman was 
given the sole right to do this. The Rev. A. W. Blaxall was offered the 
post but he declined, although he agreed to do the secretarial work up 
to the end of April 1929, thus for slighdy more than a month. In the 
mean time Adv. Bowen as Chairman obtained the services of Mr J. J. 
Prescott-Smith in a temporary capacity. It should be mentioned here 
that the S.A. National Council for the Deaf was also established at that 
time and the two Co.-ncils shared an office with Mr Prescott-Smith as 
the temporary secretary of both. The office was situated in the building 
of the Yorkshire Assurance Company, 38 Strand Street, Cape Town. 
Mr Prescott-Smith had formerly been a teacher at the well known 
South African College School (S.A.C.S.) in Cape Town. 

It may be interesting to mention here that Mr Blaxall had also 
played the leading role in connection with the founding of the S.A. 
National Council for the Deaf. The two preliminary conferences were 
held during the same weekend in Bloemfontein, the conference in con- 
necfion with the blind on Friday, 22 June 1928, and that in connection 
with the deaf on Monday, 25 June 1928. The S.A. Nafional Councd for 
the Deaf resolved that its head office would also be situated in Cape 



60 



Town. The fact that Mr Blaxall was voted to the chair and thus was in- 
timately concerned with both Councils may have been the reason for 
having a joint office in Cape Town with one secretary. Probably the 
need to economise by sharing the expenses was an important factor. 

The first reference to a joint office is found in the minutes of the 
third meeting of the Executive Committee of the S.A. National Council 
for the Blind when it was decided to separate the offices. The meeting 
was held on 6 March 1930 in Cape Town and the following resol- 
ution was adopted: 

"Separation of the two National Councils. 

The Secretary pointed out that the work of the Council had in- 
creased to such an extent and kept on increasing that it was im- 
possible to keep the two Councils going under one secretary and 
typist ... It was proposed and agreed that the two Councils be 
separated and that the Chairman and the Secretary be asked to 
negotiate with the Chairman of the National Council for the Deaf 
with regard to separating the administrative work of the two 
Councils." 

In later minutes it was reported that the National Council for the 
Blind has taken over the office equipment from the National Council 
for the Deaf. 

Mr Prescott-Smith acted as temporary secretary of the Council for 
four years. He probably received an honorarium, for in the financial 
statement the following was entered under items of expenditure: Sala- 
ries and honoraria. 

He also ran a business agency which was administered from another 
office in the same building. At a meeting held on 2 July 1930 the 
Executive resolved, on the proposal of Mr Prescott-Smith, to hire an 
office on the same floor in Yorkshire House where his office was situ- 
ated. Naturally this was a convenient arrangement for him. Meetings 
were often held in his office, and the present writer still remembers the 
unexpressed dissatisfaction of some of the members at meeting here, 
considering that the advertisement on the pane in the door described 
the kind of business for which Mr Prescott-Smith was the agent! When 
he was permanently appointed after four years, he gave up the agency 
and moved into the office of the Council. The resolution in regard to 
this was taken at a meeting of the Executive Committee held on 5 July 
1933. The paragraph from the minutes reads as follows: 

"That Mr J. J. Prescott-Smith be asked to accept the post of full- 



61 



time Organising Secretary, being available to organise wherever 
desired by the Executive at a salary of £500 (RIOOO) per annum 
plus travelling expenses." 
It is clear that besides other duties, it was expected of the Organising 
Secretary to do liaison work, which included the organising of street 
collections throughout the country. 

As has been mentioned before, seven meetings of the Executive 
Committee were held between the foundation meeting of the Council 
in March 1929 and the first biennial meeting in March 1931. 

A feature of the minutes of those meetings was the full account of 
the discussions which took place before a resolution was adopted. This 
gives a clear picture of the trends of thought of the various members, 
which were at times responsible for serious differences of opinion. 
Credit for these complete records must be given to Mr. Prescott- Smith. 

At practically all these meetings the financial aspect dominated the 
discussions. The main source of income of the Council was the street 
collections which were held throughout the country. A rather contro- 
versial point of discussion was the disbursement of funds collected in 
the large centres and areas where societies were operating. It was es- 
pecially the Johannesburg Society which refused to give up a percent- 
age of their annual collection to head office in connection with the 
Our Blind Day effort, in spite of the fact that it had been resolved by 
the Executive Committee that 50 per cent was due to the Council. The 
procedure to which had been agreed was that the full amount should 
be sent to head office and then application could be made for a refund 
of 50 per cent of the amount. In addition to this any organization 
which dealt with the blind, or had a project in prospect, was free to 
apply for a grant or a loan from Council. 

Mrs Nowlan, however, who served on the Executive Committee and 
was Chairman of the Johannesburg Society, as adamant. In this regard 
the minutes reported as follows: 

"Mrs Nowlan stated that she felt it would be quite just and they 
were fully prepared to pay their share of the office expenses of the 
National Council but she objected to having to send the lull 
amount collected to the National Council and leaving to the dis- 
cretion of the Executive the amount that should be refunded."^ 
The Secretary gave a full statement on the collections. This included 
a list of the towns and cities in each province where the collections 
were held with the amounts collected. Even the names of the persons 



62 



who organised them were carefully tabulated. There was also a column 
in which the centres were listed where permission was granted but 
where collections were not held, as well as the centres where permis- 
sion was refused. The latter received special attention in due course 
either through postal reminders or personal visits by the Organising 
Secretary. In this way then, the foundation was laid for a system of 
fundraising for the Council. 

The problem of local as against national fundraising would in later 
years become greater in relation to the expansion of the work of the 
various organisations, and the responsibilities of the National Council. 
In defence of the Johannesburg Society it can be mentioned that they 
were engaged in raising funds for a workshop with an administration 
block and the development of social services to individuals and their 
families. But then also the National Council had to become strong 
enough financially not only to keep the office going, but also to launch 
essential projects of national scope and to assist societies when called 
upon. 

As more towns allowed collections to be held, and the organisation 
was stepped up, the financial position of the Council improved, since 
hardly any requests for refunds from this source were forthcoming. It 
is however understandable that the larger sums were collected in the 
cities where active organisations for the blind existed. In this connec- 
tion it must be mentioned that no state subsidies for societies were as 
yet available. (The Council itself received a state subsidy of only £125 
(R250) for 1929). ^ 

The importance of Our Blind Day was heavily stressed at every 
meeting of the Executive Committee during the early years. Besides 
being an occasion for fundraising the day also had to be used to make 
blindness and the Council known everywhere in the country. The value 
of public relations was then already realised. 

The Secretary brought forward several suggestions to accomplish 
this but he himself felt that his staff would not be able to cope with the 
situation at the time. 
The minutes reported as follows 

"He (the Secretary) stated that he felt "Our Blind Day" would be 
a propitious time to commence this work though he feared it 
might submerge the present staff. The meeting felt that, desirable 
as the Secretatry's suggestion was, it would be inadvisable to clog 
the organisation by taking on too much work at once. The matter 



63 



was therefore allowed to stand over.' 

It shows however the keenness with which the Secretary wished to 
tackle the work, and this must be mentioned to his credit. His enthusi- 
asm is clearly shown in the minutes of all the meetings. 

Although the income of the Council in the first year of its existence 
was comparatively low, the Executive Committee decided to grant fi- 
nancial aid where circumstances warranted it. Thus at the meeting of 6 
March 1930, the following grants were made: 
£100 (R200) to the Worcester School for the Blind 
£100 (R200) to the Athlone School for the Blind 
£50 (RlOO) to the S.A. Library for the Blind. 

At the meeting of the Executive Committee held on 4 December 
1930, a letter from the Johannesburg Society was submitted in which 
application for a grant ("a free gift") of £100 (R200) was made to en- 
able a blind person to be sent overseas to be trained as a masseur. It 
was resolved that an interest-free loan would be granted to the So- 
ciety.^ 

At the same meeting an amount of £200 (R400) was granted to the 
Rev. A. W. Blaxall to supplement a bursary which he had received 
from the Carnegie Corporation in order to visit the United States of 
America. Apart from attending an international conference on various 
aspects of blindness he would also visit institutions. It is quite remark- 
able that the Council already realised in the second year of its existence 
the value of overseas visits and that it granted money for it, a policy 
which has been maintained up to the present day. 

A matter which was discussed right at the beginning of the first 
meeting of the Executive Committee was the aims and functions of the 
Council. It was repeatedly stressed that the Council would merely act 
in a co-ordinating capacity, and would not interfere with the activities 
of societies or other organizations for the blind. This was stressed in a 
motion which was introduced by Dr L. van Schalkwijk. Probably this 
matter was brought up as a result of the hesitancy of two societies to af- 
filiate to the Council. One was the Society for the Welfare of the Blind 
in the Orange Free State and the other was the Durban Society. 

As regards the Free State Society, it appears that the reluctance firstly 
concerned fund-raising, secondly the autonomy of the Society, and 
lastly the request to the Council that the Society be acknowledged as 
the sole organization for the blind in the Orange Free State. The So- 
ciety wished to be considered a provincial organization and desired to 



64 



get the assurance from the National Council that the Council would 
not acknowledge any other organisation which might be established 
for the blind in the province in the future, and would not allow its af- 
filiation to the Council. 

As regards the first two matters, the Executive Committee was able 
to give the Society the necessary assurance. Concerning the last the 
view of the Executive Committee was stated as follows:* 

"So far as the National Council is concerned, it places no signifi- 
cance on the name the Society elects to call itself, but if they wish 
to set themselves up as a Provincial Organisation and limit the 
right of the National Council to deal with any other Society which 
may be formed in the O. F. S. and endeavour to prevent that So- 
ciety from affiliating to the National Council, then the National 
Council must object." 

It was then resolved that the Secretary should travel to Bloemfontein 
m order to interview the Committee of the Free State Society. This in- 
terview had the desired result. At a meeting of the Executive Commit- 
tee of the Council held on 4 December 1930, the application of the 
Free State Society for affiliation was granted. 

The refusal of the Durban Society (Our Own Blind Fund Associ- 
ation) to affiliate was discussed at several meetings of the Executive 
Committee. At a meeting on 6 March 1930^ the Chairman presented a 
report on the interview which he had had with members of the Com- 
mittee of the Durban Society. It appeared that they were worried about 
the appropriation of a sum of money which they had collected. The 
minutes state: 

"The Chainnan reported that he had interviewed the Durban So- 
ciety but that with a vote of 5 against 2 their committee had defi- 
nitely resolved not to affiliate. The reason for Durban refusing to 
affiliate seems to be their jealousy in safeguarding a special fund 
of £5 000 which had been raised in the Union for the estab- 
lishment of a national industry for the blind." 
The minutes mention nothing further, but it is probable that the 
Durban Committee did not understand the co-ordinating function of 
the Council, which implied that if a society affiliated it would remain 
fully autonomous and no moneys need be paid over to the Council. 

Our Own Blind Fund Association of Natal affiliated to the National 
Council on 14 September, 1936, and sent a representative to the fourth 



65 



biennial meeting of the Council, which was held in Port Elizabeth in 
1937. She was Mrs C. Cawston. 
Compulsory Education 

Another pertinent question which held the attention of the Council 
during that time was compulsory education for blind children. Already 
at the first conference the urgency of the matter had been stressed by 
Mrs G. K. Nowlan and Dr L. van Schalkwijk.^ 

Later on the matter was raised on various occasions, and it was re- 
solved, in co-operation with the S. A. National Council for the Deaf, to 
interview the Minister of Education - firstly Dr D. F. Malan and later 
Mr J. H. Hofmeyr - regarding legislation for the introduction of com- 
pulsory education for both blind and deaf children. Dr L. van Schalk- 
wijk and Dr P. E. Biesenbach played a leading role in this. Adv. R. W. 
Bowen also had a hand in these representations. 

The Special Schools Amendment Act, 1937 (Act No. 43 of 1937) was 
ultimately passed by Parliament. "It made provision for compulsory 
education for all white children of school going age who, on account 
of one or other physical, mental or behaviour disability, or deficiency, 
were not able to benefit sufficiently from education which is provided 
at ordinary schools."^ 

The above Act is an amendment to the first Act which was passed re- 
garding special education, namely the Vocational and Special Educa- 
tion Act, 1928 (Act no. 21 of 1928). 

With regard to the education of blind children, the question of secon- 
dary education was discussed at a meeting of the Executive Committee 
held on 6 March, 1930.* A request had come from a blind individual to 
establish a secondary school up to matriculation. The Rev. A. W. Blax- 
all investigated the matter and submitted a report. The following quo- 
tation from the minutes is significant, and reflects the opinion which 
prevailed at that time regarding secondary education for the blind in 
South Africa: 

"The Government has not yet been convinced that there is a de- 
mand for secondary education in South Africa. It even considers 
that at this stage secondary education for the blind does not seem 
very desirable. The Government desires to concentrate on pri- 
mary education. Dr Van Schalkwijk stated that he knew of only 
two instances where blind pupils had written for the Matric, and 
until there is a demand for more pupils for a secondary course, 
there is no need for the establishment of a secondary school for 



66 



the blind. It might be possible, if one or two students desired 
higher education, for the National Council or the Government to 
subsidise them to go to England for such education." 
To understand the above point of view to some extent, one must 
take into consideration the fact that the academic qualifications for 
further study in, for example, physiotherapy (then known as massage) 
and certain advanced music examinations, were much lower than 
today. Whereas the qualification for the abovementioned courses is 
matriculation today, the requirement was only Std VII at that time. It 
has been mentioned that the small numbers were an important con- 
sideration. Yet it is almost inconceivable that matriculation for blind 
pupils was considered undesirable. 

It is not correct, however, to say that the Government's objective 
was to concentrate on primary work. In 1930, when the resolution in 
question was passed Std VII had already been introduced long since. 
Furthermore the school course was extended to Std VIII in 1931. In 
this connection it should be mentioned that shortly after the introduc- 
tion of the Std VIII course at Worcester, the extension to matriculation 
had already been considered. The matriculation course, however, was 
only mtroduced in 1943, whereupon university studies followed al- 
most immediately. 

Prevention of Blindness 

A matter with which the Council actively concerned itself from the 
outset, was the prevention of blindness. Not only was it laid down in 
the constitution as one of the Council's objectives, but already at the 
conference in Cape Town which preceded the foundation of the Coun- 
cil, both Dr L. van Schalkwijk and Mrs G. K. Nowlan touched on the 
matter. In the first biennial report of the Council the Chairman, Advo- 
cate R. W. Bowen, devoted a great deal of space to the causes and pre- 
vention of blindness, laying special emphasis on the urgency of eff^ec- 
tive care of the eyes of the newborn child.^ 

At the first meeting of th^e S.A. National Council for the Blind, held 
on 20 to 21 March 1929, a resolution was passed whereby all organiza- 
tions, societies and local authorities who were concerned with obstet- 
thar^'''^^'^'^ ^^^^^ ^^If^re services were urgently requested to ensure 

(a) provision was made for specialist maternity services; 

(b) information to expectant mothers was provided concerning the 
care of the eyes of the newborn infant; 



67 



(c) specialised treatment was provided in all cases of ophthalmia 
neonatorum. 

The latter eye disease, commonly called sore eyes in babies, had 
caused blindness in many infants, and to combat this, regulations in 
terms of the Public Health Act, 1928 (Act no. 15 of 1928) were pub- 
lished by v/hich it was made compulsory to apply a prophylactic cor- 
rective to the eyes of the newborn infant.'^ 

In this connection the Council adopted the following motion at its 
biennial meeting of 10-12 March 1931: 

"That in view of the fact that the compulsory use of a 1% solution 
of silver nitrate in the eyes of the newborn child, immediately 
after birth, has proved so effective in the U.S.A., Canada and 
Scodand in the prevention of blindness, this National Council for 
the Blind urges that the use of this prophylactic be similarly made 
compulsory in this country." 
The resolution was sent to various medical bodies and local and 
provincial authorities. 

Today ophthalmia neonatorum is virtually an unknown disease 
owing to the application of new remedies which have been discovered 
by medical science in later years. 

At the seventh meeting of the Executive Committee held on 13 
March, 1931 (directly after the first biennial meeting of the Council) it 
was resolved to apply for affiliation to the "International Association 
for the Prevention of Blindness" which was founded in The Hague in 
1929. 

It thus appears that the preventive work initially consisted of infor- 
mation to the public and representations to the authorities in connec- 
tion with the provision of services for nursing and care, especially at 
the birth of children. The provincial education departments were 
urged to recognise the necessity of systematic eye examinations for all 
school children.^ • 

In connection with the dissemination of information concerning the 
prevention of blindness, the Executive Committee imported a film 
from America in 1934, tided Prevention of Blindness and Saving Sight, 
made by the Nadonal Society for the Prevention of Blindness, New 
York, U.S.A. The film was apparently widely shown, as mentioned in 
the Third Biennial Report (1933-1934): 

"This film was shown at well attended public meedngs in 



68 



Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, Durban, 
Pietermaritzburg and Isipingo Beach. At each meeting the Chair- 
man gave an address on Council's work, being supported at 
Johannesburg, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth by Dr Van Schalkwijk 
and at Bloemfontein by Mr Biesenbach."'^ 
The report further mentions that the Executive Committee investi- 
gated the possibility of producing a film of its own, but the expense 
proved to be too great. 

A matter which the National Council introduced and which resulted 
in an investigation at governmental level, was the unrestricted sale of 
spectacles by shops and itinerant salesmen. This practice gradually 
ceased as better control was exercised. It can indeed be said that the 
National Council had made a considerable contribution in bringing 
this about. 

A part of the resolution which was taken at the meeting of the 
Executive Committee held on 4 December, 1933, reads as follows: 
"The S.A. National Council for the Blind views with deep con- 
cern the apparent indifference with which the general public ap- 
proaches the important subject of sight preservation, and it feels 
that the prevailing economic and industrial conditions call for the 
greatest vigilance in a matter of this kind. 

"Especially does it deplore the fact that many stores through- 
out the country, as well as travelling salesmen, are permitted to 
sell, in large quantities, very cheap, ill-adjusted and ill-fitting 
spectacles to the public, with litde or no regard to and without 
knowledge of the varying conditions of eye- sight." 
The resolution was sent to the Department of Public Health and it 
met with a response in the report of the Department for the year ended 
30 June 1934. The Secretary for Public Health stated: 

"It is becoming increasingly evident that serious damage may re- 
sult to the eye- sight of the public by the unsupervised sale of spec- 
tacles . . . Salesmen travel round farms informing people that 
they have serious eye-defects and selling them spectacles at rid- 
iculously high prices."'^ 
The report of the Department goes further by stating that investiga- 
tion had already been made to bring the matter into the open. The 
Federal Council of Medical Societies was requested to make sugges- 
tions regarding the matter.'* 

The initial efforts of the National Council to prevent blindness must 



69 



be seen in the light of the circumstances which prevailed at that time. 
Many of the problems do not exist today, but the Council had its share 
in the elimination or solving of the problems. Therefore it must be ac- 
cepted that, since the beginning of its existence, the Council was an ef- 
fective force in this field, which could even give direction to State de- 
partments and which could exert sufficient influence to eliminate 
malpractices through instructions, regulations and even legislation by 
the State. 

It seems as if the passing by Parliament of the Blind Persons' Act, 
1936 (Act no. 1 1 of 1936) gave momentum to the whole question of the 
prevention of blindness. 
Publicity 

From its foundation the Council not only exerted itself to publicise its 
own activities but it was also responsible for the dissemination of in- 
formation about blindness, of which the general public had a rather 
slanted image. 

Much attention to publicity had already been given in the first bien- 
nial report of 1929-1930. It seemed as if the best time for publicity 
would be around Our Blind Day. For this the assistance of the press 
should be enlisted and we read the following in the minutes of the 
third meeting of the Executive Committee: 

"It was resolved that the Council will have to work up propa- 
ganda in every newspaper in the Union to be published on five 
consecutive days prior to the first Saturday in May."'^ 
It was also the custom to request a public figure to deliver an appro- 
priate message. In this way the Earl of Clarendon, Governor- General 
of the Union at that time and Patron of the National Council, had re- 
leased a press message for Our Blind Day in 1934, and Mr J. H. Hof- 
meyr, then Minister of Union Education, had delivered a message 
for 1935. Both these messages were broadcast. In the message of the 
Earl of Clarendon much emphasis was placed on the prevention of 
blindness, especially in the case of infants. Mr Hofmeyr made a pro- 
nouncement which was still quoted long afterwards on various oc- 
casions. It read as follows: 

"One of the most effective tests of the standard of a nation's civi- 
lisation is the provision it makes for the weak and helpless in its 
midst. A nation which leaves neglected and uncared for those 
who are deprived of sight, cannot itself look other civilised 
nations in the face."'^ 



70 



Besides the propaganda which was made on the occasion of Our 
BHnd Day, the Organising Secretary (Mr J. J. Prescott-Smith) himself 
supplied quite a number of articles to the press about the work done 
by the National Council. In connection with this the following para- 
graph appears in the minutes of the Executive Committee of 4 
December, 1933:'^ 

"The Secretary laid on the table copies of the various articles he 
had written in English and in Afrikaans to the South African press 
since the last meeting of the Executive. He also placed before 
members a press cutting book'^showing cuttings from a selected 
number of newspapers and containing leading articles from seve- 
ral representative papers." 
If one considers that the staff at that time consisted only of the Or- 
ganising Secretary and one typist, it is praiseworthy that so much 
propaganda material could have come out of the office. 

The first three pamphlets which were distributed were drafted by 
Mrs I. J. Lawrence, then teacher- in- charge at the Athlone School for 
the Bhnd. The subjects which were decided upon, were the following:'^ 
Prevention of Blindness 
The Care of the Blind Infant 
The Blind Child in the Holidays. 
It was resolved that an ophthalmic surgeon be requested to scruti- 
nize the contents of the first, and Messrs Blaxall and Biesenbach and 
Dr. Van Schalkwijk those of the other two. The pamphlets would ap- 
pear in both languages. 

It was later reported that the following pamphlets had been printed 
and distributed (in both official languages): 
No. 1 Save the Eyes and Sight; 
No. 2 The Problem of the Partially Sighted Child; 
No. 3 The Blind Child in the Home^o 

Employment 

Although there were previous references to the desirability of the inte- 
gration of the blind in open labour, we find that the first positive resol- 
ution concerning the employment of blind persons was taken at the 
second biennial meeting of Council held in April 1933. It reads as fol- 
lows: 

"That the Executive be asked to initiate an enquiry and to take 



71 



further steps which may be considered necessary to extend the 
avenues of employment of BHnd Persons. "2' 
This was followed by an in-depth discussion by the Executive Com- 
mittee at its meeting of 4 July 1933. The Organising Secretary reported 
on investigations he had made regarding placement possibilities in 
conjunction with the Department of Labour. He had also carefully 
scrutinised the various Labour Acts for possible obstacles to be en- 
countered in connection with the employment of blind persons in fac- 
tories. 

Before we proceed to deal with the question of placement in open 
labour, it is necessary to point out that before the establishment of the 
Council in 1929, there were already a fair number of piano tuners, or- 
ganists, music teachers and cane workers in competitive labour. Most 
of these had received their training at the Worcester School for the 
Blind. However, only a few factory workers had been placed during 
that period. Miss Lennox Rawbone of Cape Town informed the writer 
that at the time when a beginning was made to establish the Cape 
Town Society (round about 1928) she had placed two blind girls in 
jobs, one in a shirt factory and the other with a packaging firm in Cape 
Town. We also know that practically all the basketmakers and mattress 
makers who had been trained at Worcester during those years had to 
make their own livelihood, and some of them were highly successful. 

Here the masseurs (forerunners of the physiotherapists) must also be 
mentioned. Their circumstances and status were discussed at several 
meetings of the Council and the Executive Committee. 

The first reference is found in the minutes of the second biennial 
meeting of the Council of 10-11 April, 1933. Apparently problems 
arose with the appointment of masseurs in hospitals. The following 
proposal by Dr. Van Schalkwijk was approved: 

"That it be an instruction to the Executive to take whatever steps 
are considered necessary in its discretion, to ensure that blind 
masseurs who are candidates for positions at hospitals, should 
not be penalised because they happen to be blind." 
Arising from this the Executive Committee resolved: 

"That a delegation should interview the Minister of Health and 
the Medical Board with regard to the employment of blind mas- 
seurs in hospitals in the Union. "^^ 
The result of this interview is not reported but probably it had the 
desired effect since at the next meeting of the Executive Committee, 



72 



held on 4 December, 1933, the Chairman stated: 

"that there were 1 1 or 12 blind masseurs practising in the Union 
at the present time. Five or six had definite fiill-time hospital em- 
ployment, the rest were in private practice ..." 
However, he warned that: 

"unless a blind masseur had a fairly satisfactory financial backing 
or a hospital appointment the prospects of his making good were 
problematical. 

Dr. Van Schalkwijk further remarked that masseurs should still be 
encouraged to go abroad for training if they could find the money. 
The latter remark is meaningful. Quite a number of the more or less 
twelve masseurs of whom mention was made, were ex-soldiers, who 
had been provided with the necessary funds for their training in Eng- 
land by the St Dunstan's organization. The civilian blind of that time 
had to find their own funds as no bursaries or other assistance was 
available as is the case today. 

From the minutes and other records one gains the impression that 
the placement of blind persons in open labour could not gain momen- 
tum and that the matter went no further than general discussions and 
enquiries about possible channels of employment. There were no pur- 
poseful efforts to convince employers of the potential of blind people 
or to place them. 

After long discussions about the matter one would at least expect a 
firm resolution which would lead to action, but there was merely a 
pious declaration of intention to continue with efforts for placing 
blind persons in industry. The wording was as follows: 

"It was agreed to continue our efforts to secure the employment 
of as many blind persons as possible in the various trades and in- 
dustries as an incentive to all employers to employ at least one or 
two blind workers. "^4 

Besides praiseworthy but sporadic efforts by societies the National 
Council's contribution to the problem consisted mostly of proposals, 
statements of policy and resolutions which did not develop into deeds! 
There is no doubt that each member of the Executive Committee and 
the Council as such was concerned about the state of affairs, but no- 
body came forward with a modus operandi which would guarantee 
any success. 

A very possible reason was the inability of the Organising Secretary 
to set aside time for this specialised and time-consuming work in the 



73 



midst of his many administrative duties. For this an employment offi- 
cer should have been appointed. This, however, would only take place 
twenty years later. 

The matter of employment received scant attention during the fol- 
lowing years and it was only at the eighth biennial meeting, held in 
November 1946, that serious efforts were made which eventually re- 
sulted in the appointment of an employment committee and much 
later of an employment officer. 

Gaps in the Provision of Services 

The question of aid to the blind in remote regions of the country which 
fell beyond the service area of existing societies had received the atten- 
tion of the Council since its foundation. 

It is understandable that the work of the Council should have be- 
come known even in the most remote parts of the country on account 
of the street collections which were held. Thus we find that in the 
minutes of the Executive Committee mention is made of applications 
by individual blind people from places such as Kakamas, Murrays- 
burg, Pniel (a mission station near Stellenbosch), Moorreesburg, 
Queenstown, Kestell, Parys, etc. These applications came directly to 
head office. It was often not possible to refer these cases to existing so- 
cieties for the blind. 

Sometimes it happened that a local welfare organization accepted 
responsibility to help a blind person. Thus we find that the Queens- 
town Ladies' Benevolent Society applied for a sum of R20 on behalf of 
a blind woman. The application was made on the strength of the fact 
that during the previous two years R150 had been collected in Queens- 
town for the Council. This was granted, and was repeated later on. On 
another occasion a grant of R20 was made to a mattress maker 
through the mediation of the Vroue Sendingbond. 

On various occasions the Council and the Executive Committee 
stressed that the National Council was a co-ordinating body, and 
therefore could not deal with individuals. The affiliated societies for 
the blind should provide for their needs and if financial aid was re- 
quired from the Council this should be applied for by the affiliated so- 
cieties. Later on the assistance of associate bodies was also enlisted. In 
connection with the whole matter a detailed resolution was taken at a 
meeting of the Executive Committee held on 2 December 1931. It is 
given in full as it must be considered as the stated policy of the 



74 



National Council at the time: 

"The Executive Committee of the S.A. National Council for the 
Blind wishes to draw the attention of all Affiliated and Associated 
Societies to the fact that the National Council cannot deal with 
individuals who are in need of help, but where there has been an 
annual collection in a particular village or area for the National 
Council then one of the Affiliated Societies or the local branch of 
that Society, or a local branch of an Associated Society may apply 
to the National Council for a refund of part of the monies col- 
lected in that area. Such an application must be accompanied by 
a definite statement as to the number and the needs of the blind 
in that area. 

The interest of our blind people, especially those who do not re- 
side within the working area of a Civilian Blind Society can best 
be served by co-operation between the National Council and the 
Associated Society of that area."^^ 
A shortcoming in the resolution seems to be that financial aid could 
only be granted in places and areas where collections for the Council 
were held. This would surely curtail the services to the blind, and must 
be regarded as unfair, considering that the blind individual who needs 
help urgently cannot be held responsible for the organising or 
otherwise of a collection in the area where he lives. 

The fact that it became clear that the services for the blind were not 
wide-spread enough must surely be regarded as one of the reasons why 
small societies came into being in different parts of the country at that 
time, namely at Graaff"-Reinet, Oudtshoorn, Stellenbosch, Brakpan 
and Bellville-Durbanville. Effbrts were even made to establish a so- 
ciety or committee at Ladysmith, Natal. All the above societies were 
dissolved in course of time. It is also noteworthy that the Executive 
Committee resolved at one of its meetings to request the societies to 
appoint "outpost officers" to serve blind persons in remote areas 

The problem of reaching all blind people in need of aid was thus a 
subject of debate from the early days onwards. Yet it has remained with 
us until today. 

Legislation 

The passing of the Blind Persons Act, 1936 (Act No. 1 1 of 1936) must 
surely be considered to be the most important event in the history of 
the blind in South Africa. Not only did it provide for material aid to 



75 



individuals and organizations, but it served as an impetus for all who 
worked for the welfare of the blind both nationally and locally. No 
wonder therefore that immediately after legislation was passed the ac- 
tivities of the Council were considerably extended. This must be seen 
as the result of the responsibilities and duties which were assigned to 
the Council by the Act, at the same time creating a link between State 
departments and the Council. 

Special legislation for the promotion of services to the blind had 
already occupied the attention of the S.A. National Council for the 
Blind since its foundation. In fact a clause in the constitution enjoins 
the Council: "to take such steps as may be necessary for securing the 
proper administration of all Acts of Parliament and Ordinances deal- 
ing with the Blind, and to promote any legislation that may be 
considered necessary for the general welfare of the Blind. 

The first official reference to legislation is found in the first Biennial 
Report of the Council (1929 - 1930). In Section 7 of the report the 
Chairman states that legislation for the blind in South Africa, such as 
existed in countries abroad, had become exceedingly urgent, and he 
expressed the hope that the Government would introduce such legis- 
lation. In the meantime the Council was doing everything possible to 
promote legislation on the basis of the Blind Persons Act of England, 
which had been in force since 1920. 

When the Report was discussed at the first biennial meeting of the 
Council in March 1931, Dr L. van Schalkwijk proposed that the Execu- 
tive Committee be instructed to investigate the matter. 

At the meeting of the Executive Committee held on 13 March 1931, 
directly after the first biennial meeting, a sub-committee was ap- 
pointed to draft legislation for the blind. The Committee comprised 
the following 

Adv. R. W. Bowen 

Ds P. J. Perold^^^ 

Dr L. van Schalkwijk 

Mr P. E. Biesenbach 

Mr J. J. Prescott-Smith. 

It was further resolved to await the return of Mr Blaxall from 
America, where he had been attending an international conference on 
blindness, before starting with the work. 

At the second biennial meeting of Council, held in April 1933, Dr 
Van Schalkwijk submitted a report on the progress the sub-committee 



76 



had made with regard to the matter. It recommended that the Council 
request the Government to appoint a padiamentary commission 
which would investigate all aspects of blind care with a view to legis- 
lation. The relevant proposal read as follows: 

"That the National Council for the Blind is convinced of the 
necessity for legislation to deal with the many and varying aspects 
of the blind problem in the Union, and most respectfully appeals 
to Parliament to institute a Commission to investigate the prob- 
lem of Blind Care in all its aspects and thereafter to submit rec- 
ommendations to Parliament, with a view to legislation to relieve 
the needs of the Blind and to help them in their grievous handi- 
cap."3» 

After this was approved Dr Van Schalkwijk recommended that the 
Executive committee be instructed to compile all the necessary data 
which would be needed for the drafting of the Bill. 

Acting on this the Executive Committee decided to appoint a depu- 
tation^^ to interview the Minister of the Interior so as to advocate the 
appointment of a Parliamentary Commission. The deputation com- 
prised Adv. R. W. Bowen, M. P., Mrs Deneys Reitz, M. P., Dr Karl 
Bremer, M.P., Adv. S. le Roux, M.P., Dr Hugh Stayt and the Organis- 
ing Secretary of the Council. The interview took place on 17 June 1933. 
Adv. Bowen stated the case of the Council and gave an exposition of 
the most important aspects of services to the blind. He thereafter 
stressed the indispensability of State aid by means of legislation. 

The Minister however stated that he was not convinced of the 
necessity of a Parliamentary Commission as the first step to an investi- 
gation. He requested the National Council to submit a memorandum 
which should include full details of what was being done in other 
countries, as well as an exposition of the chief aspects regarding legis- 
lation for the blind in South Africa. 

The secretariat immediately drew up a memorandum concerning all 
aspects of services to and the care of the blind. It contained the follow- 
ing: 

(1) Number and distribution of the blind in South Africa; 

(2) Provision of braille literature; 

(3) Definition of blindness; 

(4) Wages and augmentation allowances for blind workers; 

(5) The unemployable and indigent blind pension schemes in other 
countries ; 



77 



(6) State Commissions for the Blind in the U.S.A.; 

(7) Recommendations of the New Zealand Commission of Enquiry 
into Blind Welfare, 1923. 

It thus appears that the Secretary had made a thorough study of all 
aspects of blindness. To obtain certain information, circulars were sent 
to all affiliated bodies, including schools. The reaction was exceedingly 
good. 

Within five months after the interview with the Minister, at the be- 
ginning of November 1933, the memorandum and annexures were 
sent to the Minister, and on 20 November the Chairman and the Orga- 
nising Secretary were summoned for an interview in Pretoria. The 
Minister expressed his satisfaction concerning the content of the me- 
morandum, as it gave a complete picture of the special circumstances 
of the blind in South Africa. The Minister however informed the depu- 
tation that he preferred to wait for the report of the Provincial Finance 
Commission before proceeding with the matter. Meanwhile he agreed 
to appoint an Interdepartmental Committee of Inquiry to investigate 
the welfare of the blind in the country. This committee consisted of the 
Under-Secretary for the Interior, the Under-Secretary for Labour and 
the Organising Inspector of Union Education. 

Copies of the Council's memorandum were sent to the Interdepart- 
mental Committee and on 22 June 1934 the Executive Committee had 
an interview with the Committee in Bloemfontein. Various aspects of 
the memorandum were discussed, including the question of reliable 
statistics. It was decided to take the schools as basis, and to make the 
calculations from there. The census figures of 1911 and 1918 would 
also serve as guidelines. 

The Organising Secretary returned to Cape Town and immediately 
began to compile the necessary statistics which would be put at the dis- 
posal of the Interdepartmental Committee. Thereafter the responsible 
officers of the Department of Labour and Social Welfare (which were 
combined in one department at that time) drafted a Bill in collabora- 
tion with the Sub-committee for Legislation of the S.A. National 
Council for the Blind "to provide for the payment of pensions to blind 
persons, and of grants-in-aid for the promotion of the welfare of such 
persons and for matters incidental thereto."^* 

The course of the Bill through all its stages in the House of Assembly 
and the Senate in the record time of two days, by waiving several tra- 
ditional parliamentary procedures, is an interesting piece of history. 



78 



The Bill was published on 26 February 1936 and was read in the 
House of Assembly for the first time on 9 March 1936. The second 
reading appeared on the order paper of 26 March. This was a Thurs- 
day afternoon. It so happened that the following Monday (30 March) 
was scheduled for the debate on the Prime Minister's Native Bill which 
would occupy all the time up to the beginning of the Easter recess on 
20 April. If the Blind Persons Act was not passed before that time the 
danger existed that it would have to be held over for a year until the 
following session. It was urgent that the Bill should be disposed of as 
Friday 27 March had been set aside as private member's day. It was 
problematic whether any private member could be found to forgo the 
time allotted to him for the finalising of the Bill. 

Reading the Bill, which was a government measure, the second time, 
the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Mr A. P. J. Fourie, paid 
tribute to the work done by voluntary organizations in the interests of 
the blind. He requested members to be helpful so that the second 
reading, the committee stage, and the third reading could be com- 
pleted that afternoon. It was getting late, however, and Advocate 
Bowen realised that everything would not be concluded before the 
automatic adjournment at six o' clock. The Speaker overlooked about 
a dozen members who wished to speak and granted Adv. Bowen a 
chance to state his case. He requested that an unopposed motion be 
adopted by the Assembly that the Bill be finalised the following day 
(Friday) before the private member motions were resumed. The Minis- 
ter was prepared to introduce such a motion and it was carried. The 
person who was chiefly affected by this procedure was Dr Hjalmar 
Reitz, whose private bill concerning accountants would have been first 
on the order paper. 

The Secretary quotes the following from the Cape Argus (possibly 
that of Saturday 28 March, 1936): 

"Dr Hjalmar Reitz who had first place on the order paper grace- 
fully allowed his order to stand over until the Blind Persons Bill 
had been disposed of - no mean concession when it is remem- 
bered how jealously private members fight for their rights and 
privileges. It seemed for a time as if members were taking an un- 
kind advantage of Dr Reitz's generosity because they debated the 
committee stage of the Blind Persons Bill much longer than Dr 
Reitz had been led to expect. Still he made no complaint and 
eventually with one or two amendments the Bill was reported to 



79 



Mr Speaker, and the report stage and the third reading were 
taken right away. Cheers greeted Mr Fourie, the responsible Min- 
ister, as he set out to try his luck with the Senate." 
In the Senate the matter was also swiftly dealt with. When the Minis- 
ter asked permission to introduce the measure, some of the Senators 
objected in view of the fact that it did not appear on the order paper. 
However, when they heard what is was about they had a change of 
heart and immediately proceeded with the first, second and third read- 
ing of the Bill. Following this the Minister returned to the Assembly 
where the Speaker certified the Bill and made it law. The C^Lpe Argus 
concludes its report thus: 

"The whole affair was an extraordinary parliamentary story, but 
as it was all in a good cause, few cared to count the number of 
sound old traditional rules which had gone by the board in the 
telHng of it." 

The signing of the Act was also an extraordinary occurrence. 

While the Executive Committee of the Council was engaged in a 
meeting at Cape Town on 3 April, 1936, the Chairman (Adv. R. W. 
Bowen) received a telephone message which invited him to Govern- 
ment House to be present at the occasion of the signing of the Blind 
Persons Act by the Governor- General. On his return the Chairman 
announced that the Afrikaans text of the Act had been signed, by which 
it was officially placed on the statute book of the Union of South Af- 
rica, as Act No. 1 1 of 1936. The Governor- General used a gold foun- 
tain pen which had been donated by the American Swiss Watch 
Company for this purpose. 

The date for the promulgation of the Act was set for 1 November 
1936, by the Governor- General in pursuance of a notice in the 
Government Gazette of 2 October 1936. The regulations, published 
under Clause 12 of the Act, appeared in this same edition. 

The great influence which the Act had on the various facets of service 
to the blind was perceptible immediately after its promulgation. The 
Act also brought about a better conception of blindness. Therefore it 
can be stated without contradiction that the Blind Persons Act of 1936 
can be considered the most important single event in the history of 
welfare service to the blind in our country. It enabled the organizations 
concerned. State departments and even individuals to perform their 
tasks more purposefully. Besides the greater financial aid which was 
provided, the Act offered a new approach to the rendering of sei-vices 



80 



to the blind. In this connection the National Council received certain 
commissions in regard to its actions, responsibilities and duties. 

The major portion of the Act deals with the granting of pensions 
and the registration of blind persons. A number of clauses follow con- 
cerning the registration of societies for the blind, subsidies allocated to 
such societies and augmentation allowances paid to blind workers in 
workshops. There is a clause which exempts persons employed in 
workshops from certain industrial laws. The last three clauses of the 
Act deal respectively with the right of the Governor- General to issue 
regulations, definitions of terms and the short tide of the Act. 
As regards the granting of pensions, the Act lays down that only per- 
sons registered as blind are entided to pensions, subject to certain con- 
ditions. In connection with registration it is further stipulated: 

(a) that the person be medically examined so that the degree and na- 
ture of his eye condition can be determined; 

(b) that blindness, for the purpose of the examination, be accurately 
defined ; 

(c) that a list of medical practitioners be drawn up by the Minister after 
consultation with the S.A. Medical Council, in order to carry out 
the examinations; 

(d) that a register of blind persons be kept. 

The procedures which have to be followed are fully set out in the regu- 
lations. 

The definition of blindness is given in the regulations under the 
heading: 

Criteria of Blindness 

As an introduction to the numerical definition of visual acuity, there is 
a general description of a person who is regarded as blind according to 
Clause 2 of the Act. It reads as follows: 

"A person shall be regarded as a blind person if his acuity of 
vision is so restricted that he is unable by reason of such restric- 
don to perform any work for which sight is essential." 
This acuity of vision is set forth in detail in paragraph 2(c) of the 
reguladons as follows: 

"The medical practidoner shall, for the purpose of determining 
whether a person is blind, ascertain whether a person falls within any 
of the following groups : 

Group I - Persons with an acuity of vision below 3/60 Snellen: 



81 



In general a person with visual aquity below 3/60 Snellen may be re- 
garded as blind. 

Group II — Persons with an acuity of vision of 3/60 but below 6/60 
Snellen: 

A person with visual acuity of 3/60 but less than 6/60 Snellen 

(i) may be regarded as blind if the field of vision is reduced to 50 
per cent of the normal field of vision with the central portion of 
the field of vision unimpaired, but 

(ii) should not be regarded as blind if the visual defect is of long 
standing and is unaccompanied by any material contraction of 
the field of vision, for example, in cases of congenital nystagmus, 
albinism, myopia, etc. 

Group III — Persons with an acuity of vision of 6/60 Snellen or 
above : 

A person with visual acuity of 6/60 Snellen or above shall ordi- 
narily not be regarded as blind, but may be reagrded as blind if 
the field of vision is contracted to 25 per cent of the normal field 
of vision and if the lower part of the field of vision has been con- 
tracted to 50 per cent of its normal dimensions ; but a person suf- 
fering from homonymous or bi-temporal hemianopia retaining 
central visual acuity of 6/18 Snellen or above shall not be re- 
garded as blind." 
It was stipulated further that the Snellen test should be applied, but 
in case of doubt further tests should be applied including "testing by 
means of the ophthalmoscope and the testing of reflex actions". 

In the regulations provision was also made for the possible treat- 
ment of the eye condition of a person who had been medically exam- 
ined for registration as a blind person. Clause 4 of the Act describes the 
conditions which are imposed (besides blindness) for the acquirement 
of a pension. Such a person must convince the Commissioner of Pen- 
sions that — 

(a) he has attained the age of 19 years; 

(b) he is domiciled in the Union 

(c) he is resident in the Union at the time of making application for 
the pension; 

(d) he is a Union National or has been ordinarily resident in the 
Union for 10 out of the 15 years immediately preceding the date 
of application. 

The amount which can be paid out as a pension to a blind person is 



82 



not only determined by his own income or personal means, but also 

according to the ability of his wife or his children to contribute 

towards his support. 

The first section of Clause 5 makes provision for the amounts which 

can be paid out as pension. Clause 5(1) reads as follows: 

"The pension to be granted to any person under this Act shall be 
of such amount as having regard to the circumstances of such a 
person, the Commissioner deems reasonable and sufficient, but 
shall not exceed in the case of - 

(a) A white person, the rate of thirty six pounds per annum; or 

(b) a coloured person, the rate of twenty four pounds per annum ; 
nor shall it be at such a rate as will make such person's income or 
means together with the pension exceed - 

(i) sixty four pounds per annum in the case of a white person; or 

(ii) forty eight pounds per annum in the case of a coloured per- 
son: Provided that in assessing such person's income or means, 
the Commissioner shall not take into account more than one half 
of the earnings of such person." 

In the present currency the pension would not, in the case of a white 
person, exceed R72, or R48 per annum in the case of a coloured per- 
son. Also the total income of a person, in order to obtain a full pen- 
sion, may not exceed R128 per annum in the case of a white person, or 
R96 per annum in the case of a coloured person. 

It may be mentioned here that during the committee stage of the Bill 
in the House of Assembly, members raised objections to the low rates 
of the pensions to be paid, also to the clause in the Act which stipulated 
that the income and means of the person's spouse and children should 
be taken into consideration for the assessment of his pension The 
Cape Argus of 27 March 1936 reports the following about this: 

"In Clause five of the Bill, Mr Madeley, Labour, Benoni, urged 
the Minister not to set the deplorably low standard of living in- 
volved in the pension of three pounds a month. He was afraid so 
far from the removing the blind beggars from the streets it would 
conduce to putting more of them on the charity of the public."^' 
In connection with the clause whereby the income and means of 
members of the family would be considered, the report continues: 
"He (Mr Madeley) had begun to realise that this principle of con- 
tributions from relatives was bad and militated against the 
interests of the beneficiaries. Mr Derbyshire, while he welcomed 



83 



the Bill, disliked the disqualifying sub-section which he described 
as a means test. It was not as if a large number of people were in- 
volved in these benefits. "^^ 
The amendment however, as proposed by Mr Madeley, was rejected 
by the Chairman^* who gave as a reason that such a measure would 
raise the expenditure. 

Clause 9 of the Act made provision for (a) subsidies to registered so- 
cieties for the upkeep of "hotels, homes, workshops and other places 
for the reception or training of persons who are totally or partially 
blind", and (b) for augmentadon allowances as laid down in the Regu- 
lations, on the earnings of persons employed in workshops. 
Clause 10 makes provision for the registration of societies. 
Clause 8 has direct bearing on the S.A. National Council for the 
Blind. The clause reads as follows: 

"The Council shall, in addition to such powers and duties as it 
may have under its constitution, have such powers and duties in 
connection with the promotion of the welfare of persons who are 
totally or partially blind as may be prescribed by regulation." 
These "powers and dudes" are "prescribed" in paragraph 24 of die 
Regulations, and read as follows: 

"The Council shall interest itself generally in the welfare of all 
blind persons either directly or in collaboration with any odier 
associadon, insdtudon or person, and shall especially: 

(a) if requested by the Commissioner to do so , arrange for the 
examinadon by a medical practioner of any blind person; 

(b) encourage blind persons to work and whenever this appears 
to be desirable, arrange for their admission to hostels, homes, 
workshops or other places for the reception of training of 
bUnd persons; 

(c) endeavour to extend the avenues of employment and training 
facilities (including home- training) for blind persons and re- 
port on these matters to the Secretary from time to time but 
not less than once in each calender year. 

(d) make surveys of the conditions under which blind persons are 
housed or employed whenever requested to do so by the Sec- 
retary." 

Comments on the Act 

During the discussion of the Bill in the House of Assembly certain 



84 



members objected to the clause in the Act which made provision for 
Whites and Coloureds only, and that the Blacks and Asians were ex- 
cluded. On this the Minister replied that he left the matter to the then 
Department of Native Affairs in regard to the Blacks, and the Depart- 
ment of the Interior in regard to the Asians. Both Departments re- 
sponded to this. The Department of Native Affairs made an amount of 
R40 000 available for the first year in support of individual blind 
Blacks over 18 years of age, and the Department of the Interior 
RIO 000 for blind Asians.^^ 

A shortcoming in the Act is that the actual sums which are to be paid 
out are stipulated in the Act. It would have been more fitting to in- 
clude them in the Regulations. Very soon it was obvious that the 
amounts were inadequate and they could only be amended through 
Parliament by means of an amending act. If the amounts had been 
stated in the Regulations the changes could have been made by procla- 
mation. This matter was not rectified until the new Blind Persons Act 
(Act No. 26 of 1968) was promulgated. 

Apart from these apparent deficiencies the importance of the Act 
must once more be stressed. If the contents of each is examined in de- 
tail, one realises with what precision and insight it had been drafted. 
Besides the material aid which was granted to individuals and organi- 
zations the Act also contained a rehabilitation element. Not only does 
it concern the distribution of financial aid but the Council and its or- 
ganizations are also urged to serve the interests of the blind. Actually 
this is an extremely important aspect of the original Act which unfor- 
tunately was not incorporated in the new Act (Act No. 26 of 1968). 

Amendments 

The Blind Persons Act (Act No II of 1936) was twice revoked and a 
new act passed by Parliament in its place. In 1962 the first annulment 
occurred and the original Act was replaced by the Blind Persons Act, 
1962 (Act No. 39 of 1962). Between the first Act (1936) and the second 
Act (1962) three amending acts were passed, namely Act No. 25 of 
1946, Act No 17 of 1951 and Act No. 46 of 1960. These amending acts 
were revoked later and consolidated in the new Act of 1962. 

Act No. 39 of 1962 

Basically there is no difference between the first and the second Acts, 
although certain procedures to be followed concerning the granting of 



85 



pensions were more clearly stated. 

An important amendment in the Act was the addition of Indians 
and Blacks to the list of population groups so that all four groups now 
participated in the privileges as prescribed in the Act. 

The Act also contains a revised list of amounts which are allocated as 
pensions to the variaous population groups. 

As in the former Act, clause 10 indicates the powers and duties of the 
Council. 

The Regulations, drawn up under this Act, are hardly different from 
the first Act. Once more the procedures are more specifically stated. 

Act No. 26 of 1968 

An important departure from all previous Acts and amending Acts is 
that in this Act there is no reference to the S.A. National Council for 
the Blind. Furthermore the Act is geared almost entirely to the regis- 
tration of blind persons and the payment of pensions and subsidies. 
One misses the rehabilitation aspects and the interest in the blind indi- 
vidual which was a feature of the previous Acts. 

Another important departure is that in this Act for the first time, the 
actual amounts of the pensions are omitted. They appear in the Regu- 
lations which were published under the Act. This is an improvement. 

Although this Act applies to all population groups. Clause 1 7 makes 
provision for the issuing of separate Regulations for the four popula- 
tion groups: Coloureds, Indians, Blacks and Whites. Clause 17 (3) of 
the Act reads as follows: 

"Different regulations may be made under sub-section (1) in re- 
spect of different areas or in respect of persons belonging to dif- 
ferent classes or races." 
The Regulations hardly differ from those issued under Act No. 39 of 
1962. The wording of the definition of blindness, however, is more ex- 
plicit. It is based on the criterion which had been laid down 32 years 
before in the first Act (1936). 

Act No. 26 of 1968 was amended by Act No. 16 of 1971. However, 
this amendment is only administrative in character. 

' Minutes: Meeting of Executive Committee of 2 July, 1930, page 3. 
2 Minutes of 6 March 1930 (page 44 of the Minute Book). 

^ Minute Book, page 72. on r u 

* Minutes of the Second Meeting of the Executive Committee, 14 December 1929 (page 29 ot the 
Minute Book). 

5 Minute book, page 38. 

6 Minute Book, page 8. 



86 



7 Fifth Biennial Report (1937-1938) of the S.A. National Council for the Blind, page 11. 

8 Minute Book, pages 41 and 42. (Meeting held on 6 March 1930). 

9 First Biennial Report, 1929-30, page 11-15. 

10 Minute Book, page 126 (9th meeting of the Executive Committee). 

"Minutes of meeting of Executive Committee of 17 September 1930. 

12 Third Biennial Report, page 27. 

'^ and '* Third Biennial Report, page 25. 

15 Minute Book, page 44. Meeting of 6 March, 1930. 

leThird Biennial Report (1933-1934), page 38. 

1' Minute Book, page 272. 

18 This press cuttmg book has unfortunately not been preserved. It would have afforded the re- 
searcher an interesting look into the opinion of the press during the initial years of the Council. 
19 Minutes of the Executive Committee meeting of 4 July 1932 - Minute Book page 160 
20 Minute Book, page 179. Executive Committee meeting held 14 December 1932. 

21 Minute Book, page 209. 

22 Minutes of meeting of the Executive of 12 April 1933, Minute Book page 216. 

23 Minute Book, page 269. 

24Minutes of Executive Committee meeting held on 4 June, 1933. Minute Book, page 222 
25 Minute Book, page 130. 

26Minutes of Executive Committee meeting, 13 March, 1931. 

27 Minute Book, page 9. 

28 Minute Book, page 84-85. Biennial Meeting of Council, held 10 March, 1931. 

29 Minute Book, page 101. Meeting held 13 March, 1931. 

30 Ds. P. J. Perold, representative of Die Algemene Armesorg Kommissie van die N.G. Kerk, was 
Deputy Chairman of the Council. 

31 Minute Book, page 207. Meeting held 10-12 April, 1933. 

32 Third Biennial Report (1933-1934) page 12. 

33 Data obtained from the Second Biennial Report, pages 13-14. 

3+ This is the full title of the Bill. The short tide is found in Clause 14 of the Act and is "The Blind 
Persons Act, 1936". 

35 Quoted from the Fourth Biennial Report (page 14), since the minutes of the above-mentioned 
Executive Committee meeting are no longer available. The pen has pride of place in the ar- 
chives of Council. 

36The Union of South Africa - name of the country from 1910 to 1961 before the Republic of 
South Africa came into being. 

37 These are excerpts from newspaper cuttings which were collected in a book of cuttings by Mrs 
L. Bowen, wife of Adv. Bowen, kindly lent by Miss A. F. Gillies, niece of Mrs Bowen. 

38 Chairman of Committees of the House of Assembly. 

39 Fourth Biennial Report (1935-36) pages 24-25. 



87 



CHAPTER 4 



THE FIRST YEARS AFTER LEGISLATION 
1936 to 1940 



The period which followed immediately after the passing of the 
Blind Persons Act brought marked changes in the various facets of ser- 
vices to the blind in our country. Especially societies which had work- 
shops under their management could, as a result of substantial finan- 
cial aid from the State, consolidate their activities, improve their 
organization and devise plans for expansion. In this way their produc- 
tion was raised and their turnover increased. In the reports of most of 
these societies mention was made of the passing of the Blind Persons 
Act by Parliament as "the fulfilment of a long-felt want", as the Secre- 
tary of the Cape Town Society described it in a report. This same so- 
ciety told in the fifth biennial report of the Council (1937-38) of con- 
siderable expansion in numbers and production, and continued: ''The 
Society is engaged in drawing up plans which will make provision for 
the supplying of work to another 100 workers and for the augmenta- 
tion of the kinds of work which can be done". In Council's sixth bien- 
nial report (1939-1940) a comparative table appears in which the 
yearly turnover of the Cape Town Society's workshop from 1929 to 
1940 is given. It had risen from R3 752 to almost RIO 000. This ten- 
dency was noticeable in the reports of all workshops during that 
period. 

Other aspects of the work clearly showed the benefits derived from 
the passing of the Act. The Principal of the Worcester School for the 
Blind wrote as follows in the fourth biennial report of Council: 

"The passing of the Blind Persons Act has made the prospects of 
our children much brighter and the old difficulty of trainees leav- 
ing the school before the completion of their prescribed course of 
training will probably disappear as a result of the clause in the 
Act by virtue of which such blind applicants forfeit their pension 
for a number of years." 
The National Council itself grew more purposeful in its task as a 



88 



welfare organisation and a co-ordinator of services. This was chiefly 
due to the responsibilities and duties which were assigned to it by the 
Blind Persons Act. Of this there are several examples. Thus we find 
that in the fifth biennial report of Council reference is made on diffe- 
rent occasions to clauses in the Act and the Regulations whereby cer- 
tain commissions were to be executed by the secretariat. This especially 
pertained to matters such as the keeping of records concerning the re- 
gistration of blind persons (in accordance with Regulation 27), yearly 
reports to the Department of Social Welfare with regard to the' efforts 
of the Council to find new avenues of employment (in accordance with 
Regulation 24c)and the obtaining of certificates from the principals of 
the two schools for the blind to prove that certain applicants for pen- 
sions had indeed completed their school courses in accordance with 
Clause 4(i) of the Act. 

It must be noted to his credit that the Organising Secretary of the 
Council carried out all these prescribed tasks meticulously, and even 
went further than the requirments of the Act. This paved the way for 
better and more efficient service. Through contact with the various so- 
cieties for the blind he was able to exhort them to greater efforts. 

The greatest direct advantage which resulted from the Act was the 
granting of pensions to blind persons under certain stipulated condi- 
tions. This affbrded great relief to the indigent blind person who, often 
on account of circumstances beyond his control such as old age, unem- 
ployability, lack of training facilities, illness and other similar obstac- 
les, could not make a decent living. The granting of pensions, although 
the amounts were small initially, also lifted a great burden from the 
shoulders of societies. 

As a result of the registration of a blind person (which is a condition 
for the granting of a pension) and the ophthalmic examination which 
accompanied it, valuable statistics could be gathered concerning the 
eye conditions of blind persons in the country. The fact that in many 
cases ophthalmic surgeons could determine that blindness in certain 
persons might have been prevented, or that the sight of others could be 
improved even at a late stage, urged Council to take more positive 
steps with regard to the prevention of blindness. 

After it had become known that the Blind Persons Act had been pro- 
mulgated, the registration of blind persons began. At first the offices of 
the Council in Pretoria and Cape Town were inundated with medical 
data about blindness and partial sight among Whites and Coloureds, 



89 



the two population groups for whom provision had initially been 
made by the Act. Later when the Blacks and Indians were also in- 
cluded, the flow was still greater. But even before the Blacks were in- 
cluded, surveys of Black blind persons were made in certain areas and 
this resulted in still greater stress being placed on the necessity for pre- 
vention services. 

The Organising Secretary of the Council tabulated all the data which 
appeared in the application forms, and built up valuable statistics. 
These schedules were published in full in the fourth and fifth biennial 
report of the Council:* 

The fourth biennial report supplies data concerning the geographi- 
cal distribution of registered blind persons (at first only Whites and 
Coloureds) classified according to provinces, ages at which blindness 
had set in, causes of blindness and the spreading of two diseases, na- 
mely retinitis pigmentosa and trachoma. 

The fifth biennial report also supplies statistical data about regis- 
tered Black blind persons. It states the figures as at 3 1 December, 1938. 
The sample of Black blind persons was 8 379 which was approximately 
an estimated third of the total Black blind population at that time. An 
unsatisfactory aspect of the statistics was the fact that in the schedule 
which stated the causes of blindness among Blacks, 4 272 were calssi- 
fied as "unknown". This represented 51% of the total. Here is must be 
mentioned that these eye examinations were not performed by oph- 
thalmic surgeons. It can be stated, however, that the findings of the 
opthalmologists regarding the eye conditions amongst all population 
groups acted as an incentive for the country-wide campaign for the 
prevention of blindness and the eventual establishment of the Bureau 
for the Prevention of Blindness which will be dealt with in a separate 
chapter. 

Compulsory Education 

Apart from the marked progress which had been made in the field of 
services to the blind as a result of the passing of the Act, there were a 
few other important events which had occurred from 1936 to 1940, 
which are worthy of attention. 

In the first instance, Act No. 43 of 1937, which makes provision for 
the compulsory education of White blind children was passed by Par- 
liament. It compels parents or guardians of children of school-going 
age "who, owing to physical, mental or behaviour disabilities, are un- 



90 



able to benefit sufficiently from instruction and training given in ordi- 
nary schools, or whose attendance at such schools may prove harmful 
to themselves or to others, to send such children to a special school''.^ 
Seeing that the Act was applicable to White children only, the ques- 
tion of compulsory education for children of other population groups 
was discussed at a meeting of the Executive Committee and it was re- 
solved to bring the matter to the attention of the Council. At the fourth 
biennial meeting of Council held in Port Elizabeth in November 1937 
Mr Biesenbach, Principal of the Worcester School for the Blind, sub- 
mitted the following proposal: 

"(a) That this meeting of the National Council for the Blind re- 
cords its gratificaton at the passing of the Special Schools 
Act, No. 43 of 1937, but regrets that the compulsory pro- 
visions do not include, at least, non-European children at- 
tending Union State or State-aided special schools; 
(b) That this meeting of Council urges the Government to extend 
the period of compulsory education, so as to include the full 
vocational courses at the schools for the blind." 
Initially the school-leaving age was 16. It was felt that it should be 
higher m view of the fact that by that age no pupil would be able to 
complete his schooling as well as his vocational training. The Special 
Education Act, 1948 (No. 9 of 1948), finally solved the problem. It 
stipulated that, compulsory education would be until 19 years. The 
Secretary for Education could, however, direct that this be extended to 
21 years and even up to 24 years on certification that such an arrange- 
ment was in the interest of the child. 

Home Teaching 

The first society to introduce home teaching as part of its social services 
was the Cape Town Civilian Blind Society. It was in 1939 that Miss 
Agnes Brown (later Mrs G. Schermbrucker) was appointed in this ca- 
pacity. This was after her return from England where she had success- 
fully completed the appropriate course in home teaching. After this 
only diree more persons qualified in home teaching, and today this 
system has fallen completely into disuse. Home teachers have been re- 
placed by social workers. 

Home teaching, which had its origin in England, where home teach- 
ers are still being trained, has an interesting history. A society called 
the Indigent Blind Visiting Society had been established in the thirties 



91 



of the previous century. Its aims were chiefly to supply aid, financial 
and otherwise, to indigent, lonely and old people. When the sight of 
Thomas Rhodes Armitage became so impaired that he had to give up 
his profession as a medical doctor, he joined the above society and 
personally took part in visiting the blind. To his deep concern he dis- 
covered that not only were the poor and the aged in need of care, but 
also many other blind people, even young people — men and women — 
who were unemployed and had no place to live. Armitage, a man with 
both insight and drive, reorganized the society completely and ap- 
pointed blind persons who had to visit and assist other blind people. 
His new approach immediately showed results. 

This aid to the blind, which in time took on different forms and be- 
came more extensive, later took on such great proportions that Dr Ar- 
mitage decided to establish an organisation with a view to co-ordina- 
ting all services to the blind. It was known as the British and Foreign 
Blind Association. Established in 1868, it was the forerunner of the 
present well known Royal National Institute for the Blind. A part of 
the activities of the association was the training of home teachers and 
the establishment of home teaching services. 

Apart from the Cape Town Society there were, according to the rec- 
ords at our disposal, only two other societies who had qualified home 
teachers in their employ, namely those of Johannesburg and Pretoria. 

As regards the interest shown in home teaching by the National 
Council, we find that the matter had already been discussed at its inau- 
guration at Cape Town in March 1929. The following resolution was 
then passed: 

"This Conference is impressed by the necessity for the appoint- 
ment of a bilingual home teacher or teachers and requests the 
Government to appoint itinerant home teachers or subsidize the 
appointment of such teachers."^ 
During the ten years after this resolution had been adopted no refer- 
ence was made to home teaching. A short announcement merely ap- 
peared in the sixth biennial report of the Council (1939-40) to the ef- 
fect that the home teacher of the Cape Town Society had completed the 
course with outstanding success, and had returned to South Africa.'^ 
This was the previously mentioned Miss Brown. 

It was only in September 1952 at its eleventh biennial meeting at 
Grahamstown that the matter was again brought to the notice of the 
Council. Mr C. B. Anderson of the Johannesburg Society introduced a 



92 



motion in which he expressed regret that so Httle attention had been 
paid so far to home teaching and requested Council to appoint a com- 
mittee with a view to studying the imphcations of such a system in the 
Hght of the great value it could be to the blind. A committee for home 
teaching was appointed with Miss May Rogers as Chairman. It was left 
to the Executive Committee to draft its terms of reference. Miss Rog- 
ers, Secretary of the Johannesburg Society, was an enthusiastic sup- 
porter of home teaching because she believed that services rendered to 
the blind should bear the stamp of professionalism. 

According to the first report of the Committee, which was laid be- 
fore the Executive Committee at its meeting of 25 March, 1953, it ap- 
pears that the Committee concerned itself mainly with a modus ope- 
randi for the training of home teachers in South Africa. The following 
should receive attention: 

The nature of the instruction (with syllabus). 
The centres where provision should be made for instruction. " 
The examination of candidates. 
The conditions of service from home teachers. 
The procuring of subsidy for their salaries. 
The functions and duties of home teachers. 
The Executive Committee resolved to approach the Union Educa- 
tion Department with the request to draw up the syllabus, conduct the 
examinations and issue the certificates. 

The following report of the committee for home teaching was 
handed in on the occasion of the 12th biennial meeting of the National 
Council, held at Durban on 28-30 September, 1954. It was drawn up 
by the Organising Secretary, as Miss Rogers, the Chairman, had died 
m the meantime. Tribute was paid to Miss Rogers in the introduction 
as follows: 

"It is with a sense of profound sorrow that this Committee re- 
cords the passing away on 15 June 1954 of its Chairman, the late 
Miss A. M. Rogers, who took such a keen interest in a home 
teaching service for the blind in South Africa." 
In the report most aspects of the system of home teaching were dealt 
with and all the recommendations were approved by Council. A sum- 
mary is given below: 

(i) The duration of the training will be one year, which will 
include practical field work under suitable supervision. 

(ii) The centre where training will take place be an accredited 



93 



society for the blind, initially the Society for Civilian Blind, 
Johannesburg. 

(iii) The provisions for admission include a degree or diploma 
in social work. Matriculants will also be alMwed to follow 
the course, but will not be eligible to receive a complete 
certificate. Such a person will be considered to be an aux- 
iliary who will not be able to serve as an independent 
home teacher. 

(iv) All population groups will be allowed to follow the course. 

(v) The Department of Education, Arts and Science will be re- 
quested to draw up the syllabus and to conduct the examin- 
ations. 

(vi) The salary scales*which were recommended for subsidising 
by the Department of Social Welfare must be drawn up. 

Later Council was notified that the Department of Social Welfare 
would indeed subsidise the salaries with 50 per cent as recommended. 

Council was also advised by the Department of Education, Arts and 
Science that Mr P. E. Biesenbach, Principal of the Worcester School for 
the Blind, had been requested to draw up a draft syllabus for the 
course. 

The matter had now already dragged on until 1955. At a meeting of 
the Executive held on 2 March, 1955, the Organising Secretary re- 
ported that two posts for home teachers had been approved for sub- 
sidy purposes namely those of Miss E. Geyer of Pretoria and Miss Va- 
lentine of Johannesburg. There was also a third qualified home teacher 
back in South Africa, namely Miss C. C. du Toit. According to the re- 
port of the committee for home teaching she was appointed by the 
Cape Town Society (probably in the place of Miss Brown who had then 
already resigned), but she preferred to accept a post in the Department 
of Social Welfare. In point of fact there were thus only two home 
teachers in the service of affiliated societies in 1955, after the first one 
had been appointed in 1939. 

The Committee for Home Teaching also indicated in its report that 
the Johannesburg Society did not see its way clear to undertake the 
training of home teachers. It was therefore decided to request the De- 
partment of Education, Arts and Science to conduct the course. 

This request was forwarded to the Department and at a meeting of 
the Executive Committee held on 26 March, 1957, it was reported that 
a letter had been received from the Department of Union Education in 



94 



which it was announced that a course for the training of home teachers 
would begin early in 1958 at die Worcester School for the Blind. 

As regards the Worcester project unexpected problems were expe- 
rienced from the outset. These concerned matters such as fees for the 
course and for boarding which would be charged by die school. The 
National Council decided to ask die Worcester School to offer the 
course free of charge, while Council itself would make a grant of £288 
(R576) available to every candidate for boarding. A further problem 
developed in connnection with die qualificadons required for admis- 
sion. Should die course be a post-graduate one for those with a degree 
in social work or should matriculated persons be allowed to follow a 
one-year course.^ The matter was dien referred to a sub-committee for 
invesdgadon. 

Apparently nothing came of diis invesdgadon, for at a meedng of 
die Executive Committee held on 20-22 October, 1959, the Chaihnan 
of the Council (Dr L. van Schalkwijk) reported diat die introducdon of 
such a course at a university would be impossible. Following on this 
die Principal of the Worcester School again offered to introduce the 
course at die school, but it was only in 1961 diat a start could be made. 
Obviously the Execudve Committee accepted diis but no records could 
be found to prove that the matter was pursued further. 

The real reason why the training of home teachers never became a 
reality must be sought in the appointment of more and more social 
workers by sociedes for the blind. The latter was of course a step for- 
ward in the wide scope of services to the blind, but even today diere are 
diose who are in favour of a system of home teaching coupled to that 
of social work. They contend diat die home teacher by reason of her 
specialised training is able to build up a more indmate reladonship 
with her clients. 

Today the general view is that die social worker with the required 
qualificadons can orientate herself sufTiciendy by experience and pri- 
vate study to discharge her dudes effectively as a professional officer of 
an organizadon for the blind. 

The approved syllabus of die proposed course for home teaching 
which never became a reality gives a very clear indicadon of what is ex- 
pected of a home teacher and can certainly be used even today with a 
view to self-study and possible refresher courses for social workers 
who are attached to organizadons for the blind.^ It includes inter alia 
the following: Knowledge of braille and moon and die mediod of in- 



95 



struction of braille to adults; knowledge of amenities, concessions and 
privileges for the blind such as pensions, library services, apparatus, 
transcription services, certain provisions of law, holiday resorts, old 
age homes etc. ; knowledge of the problems of the pre- school child and 
parent relationships; psychological aspects of blindness; adjustment 
and readjustment; techniques in connection with case studies; inter- 
views; eye conditions; medical services; problems in connection with 
employment; knowledge of and instruction in recreation and prob- 
lems connected therewith; mobility; etc. 

Much space has been devoted to home teaching. By this we 
wished to demonstrate that the necessity for establishing professional 
services of a particular nature for the blind had indeed been realised in 
former years. 

Finances 

It has already been mentioned that the main source of income for the 
Council was the street collections which were held throughout the 
country, on or around the first Saturday in May of each year. Through 
the zeal of the secretariat these efforts were crowned with success year 
after year. The Organising Secretary personally concerned himself with 
the matter and the correspondence of those times indicated that he 
continually followed up the work. 

It was, however, felt that other sources of revenue should be ex- 
plored and the Organising Secretary decided to focus attention on the 
possibility of bequests. 

Tirstly he included a form of bequest in the third biennial report of 
the Council (1933-1934). In September 1934 he circularised all Trust 
Companies and approximately four hundred attorneys "expressing the 
hope that should they have the opportunity of advising testators on be- 
quests of a charitable nature, or executors on the allocation of funds at 
their disposal, they would bear the National Council in mind and 
favourably bring it to the notice of the persons concerned."^ 

This action of the Organising Secretary seemed to have had the de- 
sired effect judging firstly from the large number of replies received, 
which in the case of a few even held out the prospect that legacies 
would probably be forthcoming. Secondly, it was reported diat two 
legacies had reached head office soon after. The first came from the es- 
tate of the late E. W. Howard, former town clerk of Krugersdorp, for 
the sum of £200 (R400) and the second from the estate of the late H. A. 



96 



Oliver, former Mayor of Kimberley, for the sum of £500 (Rl 000) 
These were received during 1935. Also at that time a sum of £15 000 
(R30 000) was left to the Council from the estate of Johanna Aletta 
Stahl, wife of the former Mayor of Middelburg, Cape. The will stipu- 
lated that the mterest on the money should be used on behalf of blind 
persons resident in die Cape Province only. Although die bequest did 
not benefit the Council direcdy, it could neverdieless, on account of its 
having been assigned the duty of distributing the money, comply widi 
one of Its important objectives, namely to bring alleviation to needy 
blind persons, as well as aid to persons who could benefit by it in dieir 
daily tasks. Students, here and abroad, were also classified amongst the 
latter. That was die time when bursaries were as yet unavailable for 
turther study. 

The fourth biennial report (1935-1936) states that die money from 
the Stahl Bequest came at a time when there was a long delay widi die 
hrst payment of pensions to blind persons. This was as a result of the 
numerous applications which had streamed in direcdy after the prom- 
ulgation of the Blind Persons Act in 1936. These persons, all in need of 
relief could for the time being be helped through the Stahl Bequest. It 
would appear that initially the individual applications had been sent 
direcdy to die office of Council. Later it was decided that they should 
be channelled through recognised organizations. These organizations 
were not only affiliated societies but also national bodies, for example 
the various women's associations. Later on the names of diese external 
associations disappeared from the statement of payments and only the 
names of affiliated societies were listed. 

Legacies played an increasingly important role throughout the years 
m the procurement of funds for the Council. In some cases the legacy 
consisted of an outright general donation, in odiers it was earmarked 
tor a certain purpose and often contained a condition that only the 
interest could be used. Aldiough legacies are a very unpredictable form 
ot income, some sort of pattern developed over the years so that it be- 
came possible for the treasurer to include such an item in the annual 
budget It has occasionally happened diat an unexpected bequest has 
saved the Council from dire financial straits. 

"Trophy of Light" 

A meaningful source of income for die Council for many years has 
been die Trophy of Light" golf tournaments. The first tournament 



97 




98 



was held in May 1937 at the Clovelly Golf Club, near Cape Town. As 
time went on it spread to other parts of the country and sometimes 
also involved bowls clubs. As regards die first tournament, we quote 
die following from the fourth biennial report (1935-1936): 

"Mr Hyman Matthews conceived the idea and presented die Tro- 
phy, actually as a result of the appeal issued by Advocate Bowen 
on behalf of the Adilone School Building Fund, who generously 
suggested that as the Compedtion was to be an annual one, the 
proceeds be given to the Council. The first compeddon was well- 
supported and proved a great success. A sum totalling £108-7-3 
was raised. The Executive Committee of Council, taking into con- 
sideradon the origin of Mr Matthews' generous offer, donated 
the endre proceeds of the first compeddon to the Adilone School 
Building Fund." 

After this die proceeds generally went to the Council excepdng when 
Mr Matthews made a request that certain contributions should be 
made to odier specified projects. This was always granted. In die nindi 
biennial report a summary is given of the funds which had been col- 
lected during the first period of 10 years (1937-1947). The amount 
totalled R5 052. Following this it appears that the proceeds increased 
rapidly. In 1950 the amount was Rl 520, in 1952 it was Rl 840. In 
1954 four more golf clubs had already joined and die sum totalled 
R3 929 in diat year. The Garrison Club of Pretoria had alone contri- 
buted R2 540 of this money.' 

The National Council is deeply grateful towards Mr Matthews for 
this exceptional method of fund raising which he started more than 40 
years ago, and widi which he is still occupied. Not only did he aid die 
Council financially but by reason of his contact widi various sporting 
bodies he was able to convey the image and work of die National 
Council further afield to wider and more important circles of die com- 
munity. 

Mr Matthews served the cause of the blind in various odier fields 
and at present is die Vice-President of the National Council. Later on 
attention will be given in an appropriate manner to his odier im- 
portant services in the interests of die blind. 

The Silver JubUee Cup 

To commemorate die silver jubilee of die Coronation of die King 
(George V), die Governor- General, the Earl of Clarendon, presented a 



99 



floating trophy to the National Council in 1935, for which the work- 
shops and schools would compete yearly. The items for the compe- 
tition represented different trades for both men and women, as well as 
typing and the writing of braille. 

The first competition was held that same year ( 1935). Three societies 
and two schools competed. The winner was the Cape Town Civilian 
Blind Society who gained an average of 95,5 per cent for the ten items 
they had entered. The second place was won by the Worcester School 
for the Blind and the third by the Port Elizabeth Society. The other 
competitors were the Athlone School for the Blind and the Pretoria 
Society. As regards the latter, the following quotation from the report* 
is quite noteworthy: "It is interesting to note that the Pretoria Society 
for the Blind submitted only three instead of ten items for the compe- 
tition securing 100 per cent each for two and 95 per cent for the other." 

The second competition was held in 1937 at the time of the fourth 
biennial meeting of the Council at Port Elizabeth, when four work- 
shops and two schools competed. 

The cup was won by the Worcester School for the Blind, with the 
Cape Town Society in second place. ^ 

The third competition, which was held in June 1939 at Durban, was 
again won by the Worcester School for the Blind, with the Cape Tovm 
Society second. 

After this no further records of any other competitions could be 
found. It is likely that they may have been discontinued as a result of 
the outbreak of war (September 1939). Serious problems arose at diat 
time with regard to the importation of cane, expecially when the war 
spread to the East. 

"Sight saving" Classes 

Chiefly as a result of the concern and active involvement of Dr Louis 
van Schalkwijk who was inspector of special schools at the time, the 
case of the partially sighted child was continually kept in the fore- 
ground. The matter was raised at practically every meeting of the 
Executive Committee and of the full Council. Regrettably litde pro- 
gress was made, chiefly as a result of the fact that agreement could not 
be reached amongst the education authorities as to who should accept 
responsibility for this type of education. Actually it belonged under 
special education, which was administrated by the central government, 
but partial sight did not appear on the list of disabilities for which pro- 



100 



vision had been made in the Special Schools Act (1928). Thus the edu- 
cation of partially sighted children was still the responsibility of the 
provincial education departments. It appeared however that they were 
hesitant to venture into this type of education. On the insistence of the 
National Council they did indeed make efforts to test the eyesight of 
suspect cases, but there was no question of an organised educational 
programme for these children. It may be mentioned here that the par- 
tially sighted children were not left in the lurch, but were admitted to 
schools for the blind (both at Athlone and at Worcester). Here they fol- 
lowed an adapted programme and their achievements were generally 
very satisfactory. (In 1934 the Athlone School for the Blind introduced 
a class for partially sighted children, the first in the country). As far 
back as 1929, at the Conference when Council was founded, Dr Van 
Schalkwijk had already broached the subject of tests for children with 
defective sight in the form of a resolution. 

It is possible that the Organising Secretary had been in contact with 
the Department of Union Education concerning the matter for Dr Van 
Schalkwijk made an anouncement in connection with the matter at a 
meeting of the Executive Committee which took place on 17 Sep- 
tember 1930. The entry in the minutes reads as follows: 

"Dr Van Schalkwijk said as a result of the activities of the 
National Council the Union Education Department had con- 
vened a conference of Medical Inspectors of Schools and, whe- 
reas school children's eyesight and hearing were formerly tested 
only if special attention was drawn to them by the teachers or 
principals, a scheme has now been drawn up whereby the various 
Education Departments arranged for the systematic routine 
examination of the eyesight of all school children. Since there was 
no compulsory education for Coloured children, only those actu- 
ally in the schools under the Departments could be medically in- 
spected." 

The outcome of the above conference of medical inspectors is not 
known, nor the procedure which was to be followed to test the chil- 
dren. It is indeed doubtful whether it was possible to undertake a task 
of such proportions in our country at that time. The National Council, 
and especiallly Dr Van Schalkwijk, must be commended, however, for 
the efforts to take such positive action on behalf of the partially sighted 
child and his education in 1930, only a year after the foundation of the 
Council. 



101 



The seriousness with which the Council treated the matter is indi- 
cated by the fact that *Dr Van Schalkwijk was requested to deliver a 
paper at the Council's first biennial meeting (11 March 1931) on: 

"Instruction and education of partially sighted children." 

This address was printed in 1932 and distributed free through the 
office of the National Counsil. At least one copy is still available. It af- 
fords a clear outline of the educational views of 45 years ago which as a 
whole do not differ much from those of today. Dr Van Schalkwijk had 
inter alia advocated the necessity of introducing special classes in ordi- 
nary schools but rightly pointed out that the indentification of such 
children in order to qualify would not be an easy task. For this examin- 
ations by medical specialists would be necessary, as well as a fixed cri- 
terion for admission. 

After the paper had been read a discussion followed, and the meet- 
ing adopted a historic resolution in which the authorities were ur- 
gently requested to give the matter their serious attention. In the word- 
ing of the resolution a directive was given concerning the form of 
instruction which should be given to such children, as well as statistical 
data. It is also noteworthy that the request was made to the education 
authorities in general, considering that doubt still existed as to which 
education authority (provincial or central) should be responsible for 
the education of the partially sighted. The resolution reads as follows: 
"The S.A. National Council for the Blind wishes to urge on the 
education authorities concerned, the health and educational 
needs of partially sighted children, that is, children who owing to 
eye or vision defects, cannot and should not attend ordinary 
classroom teaching, and for whom braille as a medium of in- 
struction is neither desirable nor necessary. Reliable statistics ob- 
tained in other countries show that at least one child out of every 
500 of the school population requires special instruction in what 
are known as sight conservation classes." 

Perhaps a few words concerning the term "sight conservation" are 
necessary here, considering that it is not used any more today. In the 
early days the education programme was drawn up with the purpose of 
"saving" the child's sight in order to keep it from deteriorating. It was 
believed that if the child used his eyes too much it would weaken his 
sight. Today ophthalmic surgeons are convinced that this is not the 
case. In fact it is beneficial to use the eyes for reading and other visual 



102 



activities, provided the conditions are favourable. When the first 
school was established in London in 1908 the principal was so con- 
cerned about the eyes of his pupils that he initially prohibited reading 
and writing. In connection with diis Hadiaway writes: "At first in the 
Myope SchooP^ reading and writing were prohibited, as proclaimed 
by the legend over the door - 'Reading and Writing Shall Not Enter 
Here'." The change in viewpoint concerning die education of the par- 
tially sighted child, which is based on research with regard to the use of 
the eyes, resulted in his education being brought much nearer to that 
of the normal child. At a meeting of the Executive Committee held on 
2 December 1931, the whole question of eye tests for school children 
was discussed once more. The Organising Secretary submitted the re- 
ports of the medical inspectors of three provincial education depart- 
ments (Cape, O.F.S. and Natal) in which data of the eye tests on chil- 
dren appeared. The information was illuminating, but the problem 
was that no organization existed to treat the eye defects. It also hap- 
pened that only those children were tested who had been specially re- 
ferred to doctors, and that no routine examinations of all children had 
been carried out. As a result of this the following resolution was 
adopted by the Executive: 

"This Executive hopes that the Provincial Education Authorides 
will make provision for the inclusion of sight and vision tests as 
part of the routine inspecdon of school children."^* 
Furthermore it was resolved that die various departments of educa- 
tion be requested to send their reports on the eye conditions of chil- 
dren regularly to the office of the National Council. Although litde was 
achieved in connection with diis it proved that the National Council 
was sensitive towards this problem. That Dr Van Schalkwijk was deter- 
mined to carry through the cause of the partially sighted is indicated by 
the fact that he later proposed that a sub-committee be appointed to 
request an interview with the Superintendent- General of Education of 
die Cape Province with the intention of discussing the establishment of 
at least one class for partially sighted children in the Cape Province. 
This proposal was approved at die same meeting of the Executive 
Committee, namely on 2 December 1931. Dr Van Schalkwijk declared 
that he was willing to draw up a scheme for such a class to be sub- 
mitted to the Superintendent- General of Education. That a great deal 
of doubt still existed as to who should bear die responsibility is shown 
by the following remark in the minutes: 



103 



"If the scheme were successful, it might confidently be hoped that 
the class would be taken over by the Union Education Depart- 
ment. Another class might be started in Johannesburg at the same 
time." 

In the meantime a year had passed and at a meeting of the Executive 
Committee held on 14 December 1932, correspondence was read 
which had taken place between the Council and the Cape Department 
of Education. In this the Department agreed that such a class be estab- 
lished in the Peninsula. The correspondence also indicated: 

"That by reason of the time necessary for all preliminary investi- 
gations the Department was very doubtful whether the scheme 
for special classes for hard-of-hearing and partially sighted pupils 
could materialise before 1934."'^ 
Dr Van Schalkwijk reported on what was being done in the north in 
connection with this matter. An interview had taken place with the Di- 
rector of Education of the Transvaal, and a memorandum was sent to 
the Department. Dr Van Schalkwijk concluded his report on a very op- 
timistic note: 

"Such a class would probably be estabUshed either in Johannes- 
burg or in Pretoria in 1933 or perhaps in both if numbers justi- 
fied such a step."'^ 
After this we find that the matter was discussed at almost every meet- 
ing of the Executive Committee during the following years. But in spite 
of numerous resolutions which were taken, correspondence which was 
conducted with the education authorities and deputations to the heads 
of education departments, concrete results did not materialise. It ap- 
peared that willingness to get the classes established did exist in certain 
departments of education, but the administrative problems were appa- 
rently insurmountable. 

In the sixth biennial report of the Council (1939-1940) the Chair- 
man summarised the situation as follows: 

"It is with extreme regret that I have to report, after ten years of 
strenuous and persistent efforts by your Executive Committee 
and the Secretariat of Council, the complete failure of Provincial 
Education Departments to establish a single class to provide 
special means of education for partially sighted children in South 
Africa." 

This then was the situation after a decade of negotiations with the 
educational authorities in connection with the establishment of an 



104 



educational system for partially sighted children in our country. Apart 
from a class for a few partially sighted children which was established 
at the Athlone School for the Blind in 1934, no real progress on a 
national basis could be reported. When in a later chapter the course of 
events after 1940 is dealt with, it will be reported that two more de- 
cades would elapse before the education of the partially sighted would 
become an accomplished fact. 

Resignation of the Organising Secretary 

An important event which took place during this period was the res- 
ignation of the Organising Secretary of the Council, Mr J. J. Prescott- 
Smith, at the end of 1940. He had served the Council in this capacity 
since its inception in 1929. 

On the occasion of his departure the Executive Committee at its 
meeting of 10 December, 1940, expressed genuine appreciation for his 
loyal service to the Council and his untiring efforts on behalf of the 
blind. Mention was also made of the conscientious manner in which he 
performed his administrative duties, especially with regard to keeping 
the records and statistics according to a system designed by himself. 

Adv. R. W. Bowen, the Chairman, also paid tribute to him in the 
sixth biennial report of the Council as follows: 

"The presentation of this, my sixth biennial report of the activi- 
ties of the Council, would be incomplete if I failed to pay a richly- 
deserved tribute to the Organising Secretary of the Council who, 
throughout its lifetime of twelve years, has guided its activities 
and been responsible for the translation into practical effort of 
the policy and decisions of the Council and of its Executive Com- 
mittee. ... His keen interest in all aspects of blind welfare, his 
energy, attention to detail and skilful handling of administrative 
and other problems, have combined, with his tact and patience 
and his facility in the two official languages of the Union, to place 
the Council and those for whose welfare it exists under a lasting 
debt of gratitude to him." 
In the same report the Chairman also referred to a letter of appreci- 
ation which he had received from Mr P. E. Biesenbach, Principal of the 
Worcester School for the Blind at that time, and a member of the 
Executive Committee of the Council. The following extract from the 
letter by Mr Biesenbach which referred to Mr Prescott- Smith, was 
quoted : 



105 



"I cannot even attempt to summarise all he has done for blind 
v^elfare work in South Africa. That would mean a summary of all 
the biennial reports hitherto issued by the Council. The achieve- 
ments of the last twelve years in the field of blind welfare work in 
this country must to a great extent be put down to the credit of 
the Organising Secretary of the National Council during that 
period. It would be a travesty of history to deny this." 
Dr Van Schalkwijk too had high esteem for the services which Mr 
Prescott- Smith had rendered. In a letter to the Chairman toward the 
end of 1936 Dr Van Schalkwijk made the following comments, not 
only on the work of the Organising Secretary but also on the achieve- 
ments of the Council itself: 

"Although it has been in existence for only eight years the 
National Council for the Blind has made exceptional progress, 
and I count it amongst the most active and progressive social wel- 
fare agencies in the Union. Its achievement culminated in the 
passage through Parliament this year, seven years and seven days 
after the establishment of the National Council, of the Blind Per- 
sons Act which is considered one of the most progressive and 
enlightened forms of blind legislation in the world. Mr Prescott- 
Smith's participation in this work can be best described by saying 
that the South African National Council for the Blind, in its 
present stage of development, is largely his creation. ... I serve (if 
may be permitted to say so) on the Executive Committees of six 
national organisations connected with social welfare, and in none 
of those agencies is the Secretariat more efficiently conducted 
than in the National Council for the Blind. Should Mr Prescott- 
Smith at any time relinquish his post as Organising Secretary of 
the National Council for the Blind he will leave behind him a 
standard of proficiency in his work which his successor or succes- 
sors may well find it difficult to emulate." 
In the last part of his report Adv. Bowen wrote: 

"His departure at this stage from the position he has filled with 
such distinction will be a great loss to the effectiveness of our 
national organisation, but his methodical accuracy in the 
arrangement of his records will make it possible for any successor 
to derive much assistance and information from the research 
undertaken by him during the twelve years of service." 
He served on various government committees, and represented the 



106 



Council on several bodies. One of the most important committees on 
which he served was the Committee of Enquiry into Sheltered Employment 
which was appointed in 1948 by Dr A. J. Stals, who was Minister of 
Social Welfare at that time. 

The Committee's report (also known as the Williamson report after 
the Chairman, Brigadier Edwin Williamson, C.B.E.), today has histori- 
cal value only, seeing that the recommendations and resolutions which 
resulted from it are not applicable to circumstances at the present time. 
What is relevant, however, for our purpose is Mr Prescott-Smith's in- 
volvement in the drafting of the report as well as his outspoken oppo- 
sition to some of the committee's recommendations, which he set forth 
in a memorandum which was included in the report as an addendum. 
This not only demonstrates the determination with which he acted on 
behalf of the cause in general, but also his interest in the welfare of 
each individual blind person with whom he was involved. 

The S.A. National Council for the Blind was his pride. This is well 
illustrated in his correspondence, especially with outside bodies and 
persons. Thus, for example, he wrote the following to the Department 
of Social Welfare in a letter dated 9 January, 1940: 

"The Council's annual financial statement is probably one of the 
most comprehensive statements of its kind issued in South Africa. 
. . . Three thousand copies of its biennial report for 1937-38 in 
both English and Afrikaans have been printed. The report con- 
tains facts and figures such as no similiar organisation in the 
world is in a position to publish. 
Perhaps he had the right to make such claims in regard to the Coun- 
cil s activities and reports, for in the same letter he quotes from corres- 
pondence which he had received from the President of the Inter- 
national Association for the Prevention of Blindness in Paris, France 
m which comment was made on the content of the fifth biennial report 
of Council. The quotation is as follows: 

"The constructive action of the Council in regard to preventive 
measures is an object of deep satisfaction to the members of this 
Association. We intend to publish a substantial extract from your 
Council's 5th Biennial Report in the next number of the Journal 
of Social Ophthalmology in the hope of inducing odier national 
organisations to follow the lead given by your Council." 
In February 1941 he was appointed General Manager of the Cape 
Town Civilian Blind Society. In this capacity he displayed the same 



107 



administrative qualities as were evident in his previous position. He 
expanded the workshop and placed it on a firm foundation. He also 
devoted much time and energy to social work on behalf of those blind 
people who were not employed in the workshop. He held the post for 
approximately 10 years until 1951 when he retired. His health had al- 
ready caused concern and he returned to his birthplace, Warrenton, to 
live with relatives, where he finally passed away. 

' Fourth biennial report, pages 50-62. 
Fifth biennial report, pages 35-67. 

2 Fourth biennial report, page 30. 

3 First minute book, page 11. 

* Sixth biennial report, page 34. 

5 The syllabus forms part of the report of the Committee for Home Teaching: Minutes of the 

Executive Committee, 2 November 1955. 
^ Third biennial report, page 7. 
' Balance sheet for year ending 31 December, 1954. 

* Fourth biennial report, pages, 42-43. 
^ Fifth biennial report, page 20. 

'"Minutes of the Fifth Biennial Meeting, 22 June, 1939, page 9. 

"Minutes of conference held in Cape Town on 20 Marcn, 1929. Minute Book, page 8. 
'^Hathav^ay, W. : Education and Health of the Partially Seeing Child, page 4. 
'^The school was called a myope school because most of the pupils were myopic (i.e. short 
sighted). The circumstances and therefore the name, were changed later. 

14 Minute Book, page 128 (meeting of 2 December, 1931). 

15 Minute Book, page 173. 

16 Minute Book, page 174. 

17 From the Archives of the Worcester School for the Blind. A copy of the letter had been sent to 
the Principal of the school by the organising secretary. 



108 



CHAPTER 5 



LAST YEARS OF THE BO WEN ERA 
1941 to 1948 



We now enter a special phase in the history of the South African 
National Council for the Blind, namely the period which ended with 
the unexpected and untimely death of Adv. Bowen in the year 1948. 
This period covers a large part of the Second World War which ended 
in 1945. It was a time when great sacrifices had to be made, mainly on 
account of the shortage of imported goods, on which South Africa was 
much more dependent in those days than today. Amongst these was 
cane, which was needed by the workshops and which was imported 
from the East, whither the war had spread in 1942. A substitute ma- 
terial to take the place of cane was urgently needed. The schools also 
had problems in obtaining apparatus and materials from abroad. In 
connection with this the Chairman of the Council reports in the sev- 
enth biennial report (1941-1943) as follows: 

"During the past three years, owing to prevailing conditions, the 
work of the National Council and its affiliated societies has been 
carried on under increased difficulties, the main difficulty being 
the restricted transport and travelling facilities in general, and 
that of obtaining suitable and sufficient materials and machinery 
in connection with the Schools and Workshops for the blind." 
When the supply of cane from the East came to a complete standstill, 
substitute materials, chiefly for basket making, had to be found. One 
of these was a kind of cane called "codi" which was imported from 
Zaire, then known as the Belgian Congo. Although a passable basket 
could be made of codi, the quality of the cane was poor. One work- 
shop manager stated that after the consignment had been sorted, ap- 
proximately twenty five per cent of the contents had been found to be 
useless. There had in fact been no sorting of sizes and quality at the 
point of dispatch. The result was that the quality in a consignment as 
well as the thickness of the individual pieces varied considerably. It had 
a very dark, almost black colour which compared very unfavourably 



109 



with the rich golden colour of Eastern cane. Consequently the produc- 
tion of all fine cane work and the caning of chairs had to be disconti- 
nued. This state of affairs continued for a long period after the end of 
the war because it took a considerable time before communication 
between the East and South Africa was normal again. 

In spite of the fact that trade with the East was resumed shortly after 
the cessation of hostilities, many of the workshops were obliged to 
continue with the codi cane on account of the fact that Eastern cane 
had suddenly become exceedingly expensive. Circumstances abroad 
improved later to such an extent that they could revert to Eastern cane. 

The second substitute for cane during the war years, and even after 
that, was willow.* In view of the fact that this particular type of raw 
material for the making of baskets is again being considered today, the 
following communication from the ninth biennial report (1946-1947) 
is not only interesting but also informative, especially in connection 
with what has been done in regard to the cultivation of this shrub: 
"For the production of certain types of articles osiers (willow) are 
also used extensively by Societies for the Blind in the Union, and 
since the scarcity of cane the demand for osiers has increased dur- 
ing the past few years. There has been an increase in the growing 
of willows in the Union, and arising from representations made 
by our Secretariat to the Union Government, and the keen 
interest taken in the affairs of Council and its affiliated societies 
by the Secretary for Social Welfare, the Department of Social 
Welfare has embarked on a willow planting scheme in 1947 at its 
Ganspan Setdement near Warrenton, and have planted 4 000 wil- 
lows, namely 2 000 purpurea and 2 000 amagocilena, which were 
ready for the first cutting during the 1948 cutting season. This 
crop has been taken over by some of our affiliated societies at the 
very reasonable price at which the Department is prepared to 
supply these osiers to Blind Welfare Societies. 
The Department has planted more willows this year (1948) and 
subject to the findings of the societies as to the suitability of this 
product for their purpose, the Department of Social Welfare is 
anxious to go in more extensively for the growing of osiers of the 
various species, so as to be able to meet the demands of all wel- 
fare organisations in the Union at a low price." 
It should also be recorded that the war condidons caused the 
National Council to postpone the holding of its usual biennial meeting 



110 



in 1943 until the following year in 1944. Financial considerations were 
chiefly responsible for this. After the end of the war there was a period 
when readjustments had to be made for the country to return to nor- 
mal. Important in this regard was the returned soldier who had to find 
his place in the community again. Certain social problems had to re- 
ceive urgent attention, even by means of legislation. This induced the 
Chairman of the Council to write the following in his seventh biennial 
report: 

"Now that movements are on foot, and legislation is being 
framed to deal with social problems after the war, this influence 
must be used to ensure that whatever schemes come into effect, 
the blind will not be left out." 
Notwithstanding the problems which the war and post-war con- 
ditions had caused, a great deal of progress regarding the work of the 
Council could be reported. Outstanding in this connection were the 
activities which took place in the field of the prevention of blindness. It 
was indeed during this period that the Bureau for the Prevention of 
Blindness was established and has since proved the right of its exis- 
tence. This will be dealt with later. 

At the sixth biennial meeting of Council which took place in June 
1941 at Bloemfontein Adv. Bowen was re-elected to the chair for the 
seventh time. This must be considered remarkable, especially in view 
of the fact that when the Council was founded he had refused to accept 
the Chairmanship and only agreed to do so after much persuasion. 

The Executive Committee of the Council for the period 1941-1944 
was constituted as follows: 

Chairman: Adv. R. W. Bowen 
Vice- Chairman: Rev. (later Dr) A. W. Blaxall 
Honorary Treasurer: Mr H. A. Tothill 
Members : 

Elected by the Council: 

Mr (later Dr) P. E. Biesenbach 
Mrs C. Cawston 
Mrs G. K. Nowlan 
Miss J. E. Wood 
Co-opted by the Executive Committee: 

Mr A. D. Kirstein 
Elected to represent the provinces: 

Cape Province (Western): Mrs. L. C. Butler-Smith 



111 



Cape Province (Eastern): Mrs. S. H. Marks 
Natal: Mr W. H. Green 
Orange Free State: Mr C. E. Kidger 
Transvaal: Mrs. T. Moore 

Elected to represent Government Departments: 
Maj. F. Rodseth, Department of Native Affairs 
Mr P. J. Theron, Department of Union Education. 

With regard to the composition of the Executive Committee it 
should be noted that according to the constitution a blind person had 
to be co-opted. In this instance he was Mr A. D. Kirstein. He w^as re- 
garded as the representative of the blind, considering that, besides the 
Chairman, there was no other blind person elected to the Executive 
Committee. This continued until the tenth meeting of Council held in 
October 1950, when Dr W. Cohen, a blind man, was elected to the 
Executive Committee. 

Among the names listed above, one finds that five had already 
served on the Executive Committee since its foundation, namely Adv. 
R. W. Bowen, Rev. A. W. Blaxall, Mr P. E. Biesenbach, Mrs G. K. 
Nowlan, and Miss J. E. Wood. There was thus a large measure of con- 
tinuity which undoubtedly contributed to the success of the Council in 
the first decade of its existence. 

A name which does not appear in the list is that of Dr Louis van 
Schalkwijk. At that time he was occupied with the important task of 
demobilisation, especially with regard to the rehabilitation of the re- 
turned soldiers. His military rank was that of major and on account of 
his duties in this sphere it was impossible for him to serve on the 
National Council at that time. However, he again took an active part in 
the activities of the Council later, when he was elected to the Chair in 
1952, after his retirement as full-time representative of the Union of 
South Africa on the Council for Social Welfare of the United Nations 
in New York. Some of the other persons who had been elected as 
members of the Executive are also worth mentioning. 

Mr H. A. Tothill, Honorary Treasurer and a member of the Man- 
agement Board of the Johannesburg Society to Help Civilian Blind, 
was a businessman and a Member of Parliament for one of the Wit- 
watersrand constituencies. He was intensely concerned about the fi- 
nances of the Council, as would be expected of a treasurer, and was 
meticulous about the expenditure of the Council's funds. 

Mrs Cawston played a leading role in the various activities of the 



112 



Council after her organization "Our Own Blind Fund Association" 
had been affiliated to the Council. She was a pillar of strength in wel- 
fare work for the blind of all population groups in Natal for a long 
period of time. Mrs Butler-Smith was the Secretary of the Cape Town 
Society for Civilian Blind for many years. Mrs Marks was the prime 
mover in welfare work for the blind of all population groups in Port 
Elizabeth. She was a silent worker but devoted all her energy to the 
cause which she served. She was a valuable member of the Council and 
the Executive Committee. 

Appointment of Organising Secretary 

After the departure of Mr Prescott-Smith as Organising Secretary in 
January 1941 the post had to be filled, and the Executive Committee 
realised that it should not be too hasty in making a permanent ap- 
pointment considering the exacting nature of the position and the 
standard of administrative efficiency which the former holder of the 
office had maintained. A temporary appointment was thus made in the 
interim, namely Mr J. G. Kempff. He stayed for approximetely six 
months, when Mr E. Hutton-Brown was appointed. The latter re- 
signed early in 1943 and the position remained vacant until November 
1943, when Mr D. J. van Wyk was appointed. In connection with this 
matter, the Chairman writes in the seventh biennial report (1941-1943) 
as follows: 

"Early in 1943 the Council lost the services of its Organising Sec- 
retary and owing to war conditions it was not possible to make an 
appointment for more than six months. During that period the 
work of the Office was efficiently maintained by the Clerical Stafi" 
under the direction of the Vice-Chairman and a small committee 
of focal members of the Executive. In November 1943 Mr D I 
van Wyk assumed the post of Secretary. Having had several years 
of experience m administration, Hospital and Social Work Mr 
Van Wyk has already entered upon his task with enthusiasm." 
Transfer of Head OfBce 

At this fifth biennial meeting of the Council, which took place at Dur- 
ban in June 1939, the Johannesburg Society proposed that the head of- 
fice of Counc. be transferred to Pretoria from Cape Town, in view of 
the fact that all government aid was administered from there 
When the motion was discussed, there was considerable opposition 



113 



from several members of the Council. The objection raised by the Rev. 
G. H. P. Jacques, representative of the S.A. Library for the Blind, was 
that too short notice had been given in connection with such an im- 
portant matter. According to him there was also no reason why an im- 
mediate decision should be taken. He further stated "that Council had 
performed its work with such excellence and had got into its stride so 
well that it would be a pity to interfere with its machinery at this junc- 



ture 



After further support for the Rev. Jacques' view from several mem- 
bers of the Council, Mr Tothill stated the case of the Johannesburg So- 
ciety. 

The motion was then put to the vote and the result was an over- 
whelming majority in favour of the office remaining in Cape Town. 
The minutes recorded the number of votes as 9 in favour of the 
transfer to Pretoria and 47 against. To indicate in what a serious light 
the meeting regarded the matter, the minutes continued as follows: 

"The Chairman's announcement of the result of the voting was 

greeted with prolonged applause." 
In spite of this almost emotional preference for Cape Town, the 
Council resolved to move the office to Pretoria barely two years later at 
its sixth biennial meeting in 1941. It had probably taken place at the 
beginning of 1942, for correspondence which was sent from the office 
during that time had the Pretoria address on the Council's letterheads. 

Activities of the Council 

When consulting the available sources relevant to this period, it be- 
came clear that the cardinal questions with which the Council had con- 
cerned itself since its inception still required its serious attention. The 
most important were the problem of employment in open labour and 
the prevention of blindness. In other fields much had been done, es- 
pecially with regard to general welfare work. The most praiseworthy 
effort in this connection was the establishment of a holiday home for 
the Blind by the East London Society (with the co-operation of the 
Council). There were also the usual representations to and negotations 
with the Department of Social Welfare in connection with matters such 
as increased subsidies for the employees in workshops, better salary 
scales for instructors, more financial assistance for hostels and homes, 
etc. It seemed as if the Department, in the spirit of the provisions of the 
Blind Persons Act, was increasingly prepared to do its duty to the ut- 



114 



most, not only as regards the welfare aspect, but also in connection 
with the provision of facilities in the various workshops. 

Employment in Open Labour 

In the period under consideration, namely the decade 1940-1950, the 
question of employment of the blind in open labour often held the at- 
tention of the Council and the Executive Committee, but unfortunately 
not much that was constructive resulted from it. From the records it 
was clear that everybody realised that something had to be done, but 
nobody seemed to know how to tackle the problem and who should 
take the lead. The following passage, taken from the minutes of the 
52nd meeting of the Executive Committee, held in March 1949, illus- 
trates this: 

"As the Executive felt it was rather difficult for it to indicate how 
and by whom a campaign should be undertaken amongst em- 
ployers in Commerce and Industry with a view to increasing the 
employment of blind people in the open labour market ... it was 
resolved that a sub-committee be appointed ... to consider ways 
and means of placing blind or partially sighted persons in em- 
ployment in the open labour market." 
The National Council and its affiliated societies could not entirely be 
blamed for this state of affairs. There were certain factors which had an 
arresting effect on the employment of blind persons in open industry 
at that time. It is necessary that we pay brief attention to these. 

Firstly it must be realised that up to the middle of the decade a world 
war was being waged which also affected South Africa in various ways. 
It must therefore have been a difficult task indeed to place blind per- 
sons in open labour; more so because the industries themselves suf- 
fered on account of war conditions. 

Added to this was the fact that a person such as Dr Louis van Schalk- 
wijk, who had been a most valuable direct liaison between the Council 
and the Government, was not available at the time. He had been ap- 
pointed Director of Mobilisation during the war, and was commis- 
sioned to rehabilitate returned soldiers. After the war he represented 
South Africa on the Council for Social Welfare of the United Nations 
Organization. It was only after his retirement in 1952 that he again 
joined the S.A. National Council for the Blind. The absence of Dr Van 
Schalkwijk during this crucial period must be considered a serious 
handicap as regards the close link between the Council and those state 



115 



departments (e.g. Social Welfare, Education and Labourj wtiose assis- 
tance was indispensable for promoting the placement of blind persons 
in industry and in the professional field. 

Another factor which affected placement was the circumstances 
under which the workshops were functioning at that time. The work- 
shops were all still engaged in the process of consolidation. A few were 
still housed in old hired premises, and were engaged in the erection of 
new buildings. There was a problem with regard to personnel, es- 
pecially instructors, who were difficult to find. Then, also, the work- 
shops were concerned about their own expansion and it was quite 
natural that they would wish to retain their best workers in order to 
make the workshops as profitable as possible. Dr. P. E. Biesenbach, 
Superintendent of the Workshop for the Blind at Worcester, stated the 
case as follows: 

"Placement work will, however, always remain a difficult task 
and good results can only be obtained if the respective blind so- 
cieties are prepared to accept all the implications, both in prin- 
ciple and in practice. I grant that this is expecting very much of a 
workshop superintendent. His natural inclination would be to fill 
his workshop and increase the turnover."^ 
A last factor which was not advantageous for placement was the fact 
that the general view was that managers of workshops were to be re- 
sponsible for the placement of their blind employees. Even Dr Biesen- 
bach advocated this. In this connection he continues: 

**In the interests of the blind he (i.e. the manager) should curb his 
inclination and find outside employment for as many of his 
workers as possible." 
This was also the view of the Council, and is indicated in the terms 
of reference of a sub-committee (already mentioned) which had been 
appointed to investigate the question of placement. The paragraph in 
question reads as follows: 

"That the sub-committee provide information to societies in re- 
gard to placement of blind or partially sighted persons in the 
open labour market."'* 
It must be considered unfair that such an additional responsibility 
should have been placed on the shoulders of workshop managers. 
Furthermore, it was obviously not realised that placement is a special- 
ised field which has little to do with the administration and organiza- 
tion of a workshop. In this connection it is interesting to note that the 



116 



Cape Town Society submitted the following resolution at the biennial 

meeting of the Council held in November 1946: 

"That the S.A. National Council for the Blind should consider 
the appointment of a placement officer on the staff of the 
National Council." 

After discussion it was referred to the Executive Committee for con- 

^!uq?"°"k ^' I ""^"'"S ^''^^""^^ Committee (March 

1949) another sub-comm.ttee was appointed "to consider the advisability 
ot setung up an employment bureau for the blind and partially sighted 
and to consider any other matters relevant to the placement of blind 
persons m die open labour market." 

This sub-committee had already submitted a report to the Executive 
following meeting, which was held in October 
1949. The report (which was submitted by the Chairman of the sub- 
committee) produced virtually nodiing new. A disappointing aspect is 
that the Committee recommended: 

"that it would be impracticable at the present time to establish a 
Bureau solely for the placement of blind persons but that this 
should best form part of the machinery of the Department of La- 
bour for the placement of handicapped persons in general." 
The sub-committee was probably influenced by an announcement 
by die representative of die Department of Labour diat his Depart- 
ment had appointed twenty skilled officials who were stationed in die 
large centres of the country and who were concerned with the place- 
ment of young persons, but who also had the additional function of 
the placement of handicapped persons. Therefore it was recommended 
that the placement of blind and partially sighted persons should pref- 
erably form part of die State machinery which had been brought into 
being for diis purpose. 

The sub-committee further recommended that close co-operation 
between die blind and the Department of Labour should be estab- 
lished. 

It was also recommended that a central register for employable 
blind and partially sighted persons should be kept in the office of the 
National Council, and diat it should be at the disposal of the Depart- 
ment of Labour and other government organizations. 

No mention was made in the minutes of the Executive meeting of 



117 



any discussion having taken place; it was merely stated that the report 
had been unanimously adopted. 

This then was the situation at the end of the 1940-1950 decade as re- 
gards placement. 

The above account may give the impression that the situation con- 
cerning placement of the blind in open labour was extremely alarm- 
ing. This was not the case, however, as quite a number of blind persons 
had already been integrated into open labour at that time. This, how- 
ever, had taken place chiefly on their own initiative. 

In this connection mention was made previously of blind persons 
who had built up profitable business undertakings on their own, such 
as the Marais brothers in Worcester, Mr C. C. Church in Kimberley, 
Mr C. Marais, the electrician of Robertson, Mr T. Kruger, the basket- 
maker of Breede River near Worcester, as well as other cane workers in 
Paarl, Robertson, Hermon and elsewhere. Attention was also given to 
music teachers, piano tuners and organists who had been able to make 
a Uving in different parts of the country. To these must be added a 
small number of lawyers who had achieved outstanding success in their 
profession. Here and there placements in the industries were also re- 
ported. 

As regards physiotherapy, in 1940-1950 there were already about a 
dozen physiotherapists either in private practice or on the staffs of hos- 
pitals. Blind teachers had been employed on the staff of the Worcester 
School for the Blind ever since it was first established, and at least one 
blind teacher had been appointed at an ordinary school near Bloem- 
fontein, namely Mr John Tennant. 

As regards telephony, the Worcester School for the Blind had begun 
the training of telephone operators in 1945 after negotiations with the 
Department of Posts and Telegraphs. In connection with this we find 
the following in the minutes of the meeting of the Executive Commit- 
tee held on 12 and 13 September 1945: 

"Dr Biesenbach reported that the necessary equipment had been 
installed and that training was already in progress. The Union 
Education Department was prepared to subsidise this project and 
the difficulty now was not the training of telephonists, but the 
placing of them in suitable positions after completion of their 
training. ... It is also suggested that the Government should set 
the example by employing trained blind telephonists on their 
various exchanges. The Government is very sympathetic but 



118 



when it comes to actual employment there are numerous techni- 
cal difficulties and excuses." 
A year later, at a meeting of the Executive Committee held on 5 
November 1946, the Organizing Secretary could report that die Public 
Service Commission was prepared to employ trained blind telephon- 
ists in conjunction with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. This 
was a great step forward. 

The training of telephone operators expanded when the Johannnes- 
burg Society announced at a meeting of the Executive Committee held 
on 22-23 October 1947 that they had introduced facilities for the train- 
ing of adult telephonists. 

A matter relevant to the placement of blind persons in certain Euro- 
pean countries was the compulsory employment of a percentage of 
physically disabled persons (1% to 396) in an industrial enterprise (firm 
or factory) which had more than a specified number of workers in its 
employ. In the minutes of the meeting of the Executive Committee 
held on 16 October 1944 one reads as follows: 

"Dr Biesenbach suggested that a recommendation should go for- 
ward to the National Council asking it to adopt a resolution re- 
questing the Government to enact legislation as soon as possible 
for the absorption into ordinary employment of a certain quota 
of physically disabled persons." 
A proposal along these lines was put forward at the seventh biennial 
meeting^ of the Council, and was unanimously approved. A similar 
proposal was again introduced at the ninth biennial meeting of the 
Council,^ this time by Miss L. Beaumont Rawbone of the Cape Town 
Society. It was specifically requested that legislation be introduced on 
the lines of the Disabled Persons Employment Act (1944) of England in 
which compulsory employment of physically disabled persons is laid 
down according to a quota system. 

A full discussion followed during which several speakers stressed the 
disadvantages and impracticability of the quota system. The proposal 
was rejected and in its place the following was approved by the meet- 
ing: 

*'In view of the fact that legislation on the lines of the Disabled 
Persons Employment Act of Great Britain does not now seem op- 
portune in South Africa, this meeting of the National Council for 
the Blind is of opinion that a campaign should be undertaken 
amongst employers in Commerce and Industry with a view to in- 



119 



creasing the employment of blind people in the open labour mar- 
ket." 

Investigations in connection with the application of the system have 
brought many deficiencies and abuses to light. For this reason it was 
never introduced in South Africa. It is our policy that the employment 
of physically handicapped persons should take place through per- 
suasion rather than by legal enforcement. 

Furthermore it had been experienced abroad that in the legislation 
the term "disabled" alone was used. This resulted in other categories 
enjoying preference. It was also found that very often firms had the 
names of disabled persons on their pay sheets, but did not in fact have 
them in their employ. 

In virtually all the biennial reports of the Council up to approxi- 
mately 1946, mention was made of the reluctance of industry and com- 
merce to take blind persons into their employ. This was attributed to 
prejudice. Although uncertainty existed concerning the approach to 
the problem of placement by the National Council, attempts were 
nevertheless made to obtain employment for the blind. The following 
statement in connection with the question of prejudice already appears 
in the sixth biennial report of the Council (1939-1940): 

"The Secretariat of Council interviewed upwards of 60 firms in 
Cape Town and suburbs with a view to securing employment, on 
trial and without remuneration, of registered blind persons, but 
met with no success. It is a matter of extreme regret that owing to 
the very strong prejudice in South Africa against the employment 
of blind persons in ordinary industry, the only avenue of employ- 
ment open to them at present is basketmaking and, with negli- 
gible exceptions, piano tuning, mattress making, massaging and 
knitting." 

It is a fact that a lack of knowledge still exists today concerning the 
true potential of blind persons. Through the years, however, much of 
the prejudice has disappeared as a result of the progress made in the 
field of service to the blind, as well as the involvement of the general 
public, but chiefly as a result of the achievements of the blind them- 
selves. 

Placement — Views and Efforts by the Blind 

An important aspect of placement, on which we shall dwell for a while, 
is the stirrings which took place among the blind themselves during the 



120 



decade under review It ,s a fact that a strong feeling of independence 
existed amongst bhnd people at the time and they revolted against 
placement m sheltered employment. They realised, however, that in 
the early days (and for many blind persons this applies even at the 
present time) diere was no other alternative. However, it became quite 
clear that the leaders amongst the blind at some time or other would 
come fomard with their own organization to promote placement in 
open labour. This took place when the S.A. Blind Workers organiza- 
tion wa. founded on 26 October, 1946. A fuller report concerning the 
S.A.B.W.O. will be given later which will indicate that the organiza- 
tion, as It grew down the years, concerned itself with many other as- 
pects of providing seiTices to their fellow blind besides placement The 
latter, however, remained their chief objective. 

In diis respect a state of affairs existed where the efforts of the blind 
themselves to promote placement ran parallel to those of the Council 
for a considerab e time with hardly any points of contact. It is truly 
strange that no blind person so far had had a share in the Council's ef- 
forts in spite of the fact that this was a matter which so closely con- 
cerned the blind. The only case in which a blind person was involved in 
the matter of placement at that time was when Dr W. Cohen was in- 
vited by the sub-committee appointed to consider the establishment of 
a placement bureau to assist them in an advisory capacity.' We also 
find that the strong views expressed by certain blind people who were 
forced to make a living in the workshops met with no response at the 
meetings of the Council or the Executive Committee. What could the 

TTl uv ^' " '"^'"^ *e Chairman, no 

elected' blind persons served on the Executive Committee for many 
years. Secondly, there was still a strong tendency among the sighted 
section of the population not only to act on behalf of their blind pro- 
teges, but also to think and decide for diem. The process of emancipa- 
tion of the blind had then scarcely begun. Consequendy one can well 
understand that nobody on die Council had considered bringing in 
knowledgeable blind persons from outside to serve as co-opted mem- 
bers of such committees. In connection with this the following is illu- 
minating. At die eighth biennial meeting of the Council held at Wor- 
cester on 6-7 November 1946, there was a strong feeling that the blind 
should become more involved in dieir own affairs. The minutes re- 
ported the following: 

"Miss Watson, on behalf of the Cape Town Civilian Blind So- 



121 



ciety, moved: To add to the end of Section 6 of the constitution: 
The Council shall have the power to elect an advisory committee 
of registered blind persons, one from each of the five Provinces^ 
and not necessarily members of Council, to serve the Council in 
an advisory capacity.' 
Mr Fuchs seconded the motion. 

After discussion, the motion was put and Council divided: 
For the motion — 4 
Against the motion — 27 
The motion was accordingly negatived." 
Besides the Chairman there were three blind persons present at the 

meeting. . 

To return to the question of placement in open labour and the in- 
volvement of the blind with it, it can be stated that in the 25th Jubilee 
Brochure of the S.A. Blind Workers Organization, which appeared in 
197 1, the matter received special attention since it was the chief reason 
for the establishment of the S.A.B.W.O. It describes inter alia how the 
organization was born out of the burning desire of the blind to secure 
a better livelihood for themselves. In his article entided "A few aspects 
in connecuon with the development of the S.A. Blind Workers Organi- 
zation" Mr E. J. J. Kruger writes as follows (page 23): 

"Workers who could find employment in the open labour market 
were exceptionally rare. Since 1918, after the First World War, a 
few of them qualified in physiotherapy and also in law. Up to the 
beginning of the Second World War only three persons could ob- 
tain posts as telephonists. This then was the normal course of his- 
tory: that the discontented individual would come into revolt 
against his circumstances, and would demand for himself a better 
future through his own organization. u u r ^ 

The dissatisfaction among the workers in workshops for the blind 
increased sharply during the Second World War. The right of 
existence and the dignity of the blind worker were at stake, which 
led to a feeling of humiliation. His dignity-, it was argued, could 
only be restored through better opportunities for work which 
would lead to economic rehabilitation. During 1945 the discon- 
tent rose to a climax. This would eventually lead to the estab- 
lishment of their own organisadon in which sighted persons 
would not be allowed because offence was taken at misplaced 
sympathy and excessive charity." 



122 



The last sentence is enlightening, but the S.A.B.W.O. did not stop at 
this negative attitude because Mr D. C. Malan, President of the organ- 
isation at that time, stressed the more positive aims of the S.A.B.W.O. : 
"Many employers were not aware of, or were prejudiced con- 
cerning the efficiency and capability of blind workers to work in 
the open labour market. This is, and has been, a great struggle in- 
deed, because the main objective of the organisation was to find 
work for the blind, especially in the open labour market." 
Mr A. J. C. Swartz, in an article in the same publication of the 
S.A.B.W.O. with the somewhat unusual tide "Blindness, a gift and a 
test", connects the problem of placement with the gulf which exists 
between the sighted and the blind. Sketching the circumstances of the 
school-leavers during the twenties and the thirties he continues as fol- 
lows: 

"But what was the lot of the blind school-leaver.^ Full of pride 
and self-confidence, armed with a good and well-deserved certifi- 
cate, and inspired with the highest ideals for a decent and profit- 
able existence, he enters the wide world of prejudice against his 
human right of usefulness. His capabilities and self-respect are 
disregarded by a community which ascribes all power, rights and 
efficiency to the possession of sight ... The same State which had 
encouraged education for the blind and had increasingly sup- 
ported it has done nothing to offer the trained blind person a 
bearable existence. The same State has, as late as the thirties, put 
on record that, as regards workmen's compensation, a blind per- 
son is 100 per cent incapacitated. "^^ 
Mr Schwartz also supplied data relating to the salaries which were 
paid to the workers at that time, and which indicate how desperate 
their economic situation was. 

It must certainly not be concluded from the above that the Council 
was indifferent to integrated placement and the economic problems of 
the blind. On the contrary, there is sufficient proof that the Council, by 
means of discussions, representations to State departments and indus- 
try, memoranda, reports of committees and addresses delivered at 
meetings regarded the matter in a very serious light. Still, it seems as if 
the necessary insight was lacking, possibly as a result of the absence of 
proper communication between the Council and the blind com- 
munity. 

This lack of communication cannot be laid at the door of one party 



123 



alone. Both are to blame for different reasons. The blind did not come 
forward to state their case in a positive way. This only happened after 
the S.A. Blind Workers Organization was established. Not only was 
this instrumental in putting the case of the blind in its right perspective 
to the sighted public, but it also contributed to a great extent towards 
helping the blind worker to take his rightful place in the economic life 
of the country. 

In a later chapter, when the next period in the history of the 
National Council will be dealt with, we shall indicate how the estab- 
lishment of a permanent committee for placement, with a placement 
officer on the staff" of the Council, brought about a complete change 
for the better regarding the problem of placement. Noteworthy also is 
the fact that, as time went on, more and more leading figures from the 
ranks of the blind served on the committee, and that later not only the 
Chairman of the employment committee but also the employment of- 
ficer was a blind person. 

Prevention of Blindness 

A Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness had actually been established 
as early as 1939. This was at the fifth biennial meeting of the Council at 
Durban. Owing to the war no separate officer who would be specifi- 
cally responsible for the organising of the Bureau was appointed. It 
was decided that in the meantime the work would be done through the 
office of the Council by the secretariat. It will readily be understood 
that on account of the Organising Secretary's copious duties resulting 
from the swift expansion of the Council's activities not much could be 
done in regard to the prevention aspect, apart perhaps from some 
measure of propaganda. This then was the situation up to the year 
1944. 

At the seventh biennial meeting of the National Council held in 
Cape Town on 17-18 October 1944 a report was submitted by a com- 
mittee which had been appointed at the 39th Executive Committee 
meeting^ to investigate the implications regarding the establishment of 
a Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness. This action was taken be- 
cause the original Bureau established in 1939 was considered defunct, 
since practically nothing constructive was done during the war years. 
The functions of the Bureau were briefly set out and included the fol- 
lowing: collaboration with medical and health services, educational 
bodies, affiliated societies and public bodies; the promotion of legis- 



124 



lation; supplying information to the general public; research - preven- 
tion work amongst all social groups. It was also recommended in the 
report that a director assisted by a clerk be appointed. As regards fi- 
nances, the following was recommended by the Committee: 

"The salaries of the personnel and the maintenance costs of the 
Bureau to be borne by and form a normal part of the activities of 
the South African National Council for the Blind, financially sup- 
ported by such grants and/or subsidies as may be obtained for the 
purpose from the Union Department of Public Healdi and Social 
Welfare." 

There was a time lapse of more than a year, however, before the Bu- 
reau commenced its programme of action in January 1946. In as much 
as the Bureau constituted such an important department of the Coun- 
cil s activities, its establishment and activities will be reported on later. 

Holiday home for the blind 

The establishment of a seaside home for the blind first came under dis- 
cussion at the fifth biennial meeting of the National Council held on 
21 and 22 June 1939 in Durban. On that occasion Mrs C. Cawston 
representative of Our Own Blind Fund Association of Natal read a 
paper on "Seaside Holiday Home for Blind Persons" 

The suggestion was favourably received and Mr A. Kirstein, a blind 
person himself, stated that he was convinced that the blind would 
gready appreciate such a holiday home and expressed the hope that 
the project would soon become a reality. During the ensuing discus- 
sion Mrs C K. Nowlan, representative of the Johannesburg Society 
suggested that societies should undertake the responsibility of paying 
half of the costs of holidays for die blind under their care 

After the discussion a motion was adopted to the effect that the mat- 
ter should be referred to the Executive Committee for further conside- 
ration and implementation. 

At a meeting of die Execudve Committee held on 7 and 8 March 
1945 It was announced that the East London Society for the Blind had 
decided to establish such a holiday resort at East London. In the eighth 
biennial report of the Council (1944-1945) it was further announced 
that the City Council of East London had made an unoccupied 
building which was formerly the Hillcoombe First Aid Hospital, avail- 
able to the East London Society at a nominal rental of one pound per 
annum for a period of 10 years, to be used as a holiday home for the 



125 



blind. It was situated on the banks of the Nahoon River approximately 
eight kilometres from East London and near the sea. Aid was received 
from various bodies such as the Red Cross and the St John's Associ- 
ation in connection with equipment for the building. The National 
Council granted £l 000 (R2 000) at the outset for maintenance, and 
promised further financial aid. 

The Hillcoombe Holiday Home for the Blind was opened on 17 
May, 1946. The Organising Secretary, Mr D.J. van Wyk, attended the 
ceremony on behalf of the National Council. 

It would appear, however, that the East London Society in course of 
time ran into difficulties to make ends meet as regards the maintenance 
of Hillcoombe. At one stage the Society had suggested that the 
National Council should shoulder the entire responsibility of the 
maintenance of the home. This was not a definite proposal and the 
matter was not discussed. Although the Council felt that it could not 
agree to this, it was not indifferent to the efforts of the East London 
Society and at a later meeting of the Executive Committee^ ^ it decided 
on a formula for regular annual grants. The generous aid given by the 
Council was chiefly on account of the awareness that the holiday resort 
would be at the disposal of the blind of the entire country and that the 
East London Society was thus actually rendering a national service. 
Later on a partnership agreement was concluded between the Council 
and the Society which was to ensure the survival of the resort. 

Welfare Organizations Act 

A very important development regarding social welfare services in our 
country at that time was the passing by Parliament of the Social Wel- 
fare Organizations Act, 1947 (Act No. 40 of 1947). 
It made provision for the registration of welfare organizations, and for 
the control of the funds collected by such organizations and their acti- 
vities, which included also the approval of the constitution of each or- 
ganization. 

Furthermore, the Act made provision for the establishment of a 
National Board for Social Welfare Organizations, to whom certain du- 
ties and responsibilities were assigned. 

This Board consisted of 24 members, of whom a quarter had to be 
social workers, one quarter persons who were involved in welfare 
work in the rural districts, and one half persons who were occupied 
with similar work in the cities. The ninth biennial report of the 



127 



National Council for the Blind states that Mr. D. N. Murray, the 
Honorary Treasurer of the Council, had been appointed Vice-Chair- 
man of the National Board for Welfare Organizations. 

The Act also made provision for the appointment of local welfare 
boards in any magisterial district, municipality or other area. The du- 
ties of these local boards were, amongst others, to provide the 
National Board for Welfare Organizations and any State department 
or local authority, with advice and to make recommendations in con- 
nection with applications for registration as welfare organizations. 

The Minister could also appoint inspectors to examine the financial 
statements and other documents of a welfare organization. 

This Act must be considered a step forward. It brings control and 
order into all social welfare work in the country, and by exercising alb- 
solute control over the raising of funds safeguards the public. For this 
reason no organization may distribute collection lists or launch any 
fundraising efforts before it can produce its registration number (this is 
the familiar W. O. number), which must also appear on its letterheads. 

Since the establishment of the National Board for Welfare Organiza- 
tions several members of the National Council for the Blind have ser- 
ved on regional welfare boards. 

Monetary aid by the State 

It is certainly appropriate at this stage to give a brief resume of the fi- 
nancial assistance supplied by the State in respect of the work done by 
the Council and the societies. Likewise the study of the situation re- 
garding the granting of pensions to the various population groups will 
be interesting for the purpose of comparison later on. The main object 
of welfare work and the rehabilitation of the blind, which includes 
placement, must be to change pensioners into taxpayers. Instead of re- 
ceiving from the State, they must be capable of contributing towards 
the state finances. A good criterion for this ought to be the rate at 
which the number of pensioners diminishes over a specified period. 
For the statistics to be reliable, it must be measured against the growth 
rate of the population. 

The assistance, support and interest shown by the Department of 
Social Welfare runs like a golden thread right through the entire his- 
tory of the National Council, and is a matter which was never over- 
looked by the Chairman in his biennial reports. This also applies to the 
Department of Health, especially after the Bureau for the Prevention 



128 



of Blindness had got under way. It is also significant that on various 
occasions the Secretaries for Social Welfare and Health represented 
their respective departments at Council meetings in person. The ad- 
vantage attached to this was that they were able to give an immediate 
ruling in connection with representations addressed to them. 

It is also worthy of note that with the change of government after the 
election of 1948 Dr. A.J. Stals was appointed Minister of Social Wel- 
fare, Health and Union Education, three departments with which the 
National Council was intensely involved. The Division for pensions 
came under the Department of Finance at that time, and on this ac- 
count we find that the latter regularly sent a representative to Council 
meetings. 

It is remarkable how the interest of the Department of Social Wel- 
fare had grown since the passing of the Blind Persons Act in 1936. The 
importance of legislation depends upon the fact that a Department, 
with the authority conferred upon it by the Act, can grant financial aid! 
Furthermore, if certain financial principles have been laid down per- 
iodic amendments can be made accordingly, often to the advantage of 
the organizations and individuals concerned. Thus we find that as a re- 
sult of representations by the National Council the Department of 
Social Welfare was in a position to increase the pensions of individuals 
periodically, and could also raise the augmentation grants and subsi- 
dies to societies. 

In the ninth biennial report of the Council the Chairman gives a re- 
sume of the financial aid which is granted to societies by the Depart- 
ment of Social Welfare. This is chiefly for the following: 

"The establishment and maintenance of hostels, homes, workshops 
and other places approved by the Minister for the reception or training 
of registered blind persons, and the remuneration of persons em- 
ployed by such societies or the National Council for the purpose of 
conducting any such hostel, home, or workshop, or other place." 

According to the formulas which were in force in 1948 the subsidies 
ranged from 50 per cent for approved expenditure for general main- 
tenance and running costs to 75 per cent for salaries of instructors and 
social workers. As far as capital expenditure was concerned subsidies 
were paid on the basis of "two thirds of the cost of purchasing, erect- 
ing, repairing and renovating as well as of the rental paid for buildings 
and 50 per cent of the cost of equipment". 



129 



Augmentation Allowances 

Besides the abovementioned grants and subsidies augmentation al- 
lowances were paid to individual blind workers in workshops accord- 
ing to the grade in which they were placed. The allowances were 
further determined by the population group to which the person be- 
longed.*^ 

At the time a supplementary allowance was paid to workers in both die 
public and the private sector, in order to lessen the burden of the rising 
cost of living. This cost of living allowance was later consolidated in 
the salary structure. 

Pensions 

The original Blind Persons Act of 1936 (Act No. 11 of 1936) made 
provision for the payment of pensions to two population groups only, 
namely Whites and Coloureds. The state department concerned made 
funds available for payment of ad hoc subsidies to Indians and Blacks 
until the Act was amended to include all population groups. 

The application of a means test determined the amount of a pension 
or whether it would be granted at all. Regarding the amount of a per- 
son's income which would disqualify him from receiving a pension, 
many discussions took place at Executive Committee and Council 
meetings. Some members even urged that the means test should be 
abolished entirely, and that the pension should be regarded as a 
handicap allowance. All blind persons would therefore derive benefit 
from such a measure. The argument in favour of this was that a blind 
person, whatever his income may be, spends more than a sighted per- 
son on his daily needs. In those days many blind people objected to the 
term pension, because the usual connotation attached to the word im- 
plied old age or retirement. They regarded the use of it as another 
stigma. A. J. C. Swartz made this remark: "But why a 'pension'.^ For 
other people it would have been a subsidy or grant."*^ 

In connection with the number of persons who had received pen- 
sions in the financial year 1947-48 and the amount which had been 
paid out, the following table was published in the ninth biennial re- 
port of the Council. It indicated the figures as they were on 31 March 
1948: 



130 





Total 
registered 

blind 
persons 


In receipt 

of 
pensions 


Not in 
receipt 
of 
pensions 


Amount paid 
out 
R 


Wnites 


2 296 


1 144 


1 152 










1 596 


540 




102 100 


Asians 


163 


141 


22 






Blacks 


28 639 


25 778 


2 861 




182 284 


Total 


33 234 


28 659 


4 575 




284 384 



Alcoholics and mentally disturbed persons 

Two other matters which occupied the Council's attention during 
the period were blind alcoholics and blind persons in istitutions for the 
mentally disturbed. 

In the minutes of the eighth biennial meeting of the Council held on 
6 - 7 November 1946 the following proposal was submitted by Mrs C. 
Cawston on behalf of the Natal Society for White and Coloured Blind 
Persons, and accepted by the meeting: 

"That this meeting of the S.A. National Council for the Blind 
considers that the time has arrived that representations should be 
made by the Council to the government for the establishment of a 
home for European and Coloured blind indigent inebriates." 
The Organising Secretary followed up to resolution by making con- 
tact with two organizations (in Natal and Johannesburg) which were 
involved in the rehabilitation of alcoholics. Both replied that they were 
not equipped to accommodate blind people. 

After this a letter was sent to all societies for the blind requesting 
them to supply particulars of the number of indigent blind alcoholics 
in their areas. 

According to the replies from the societies there were only eight 
cases of blind alcoholics in the country. The Executive Committee con- 
sequently resolved that this did not justify the establishment of a home. 
The matter was not raised again. 

As regards the mentally disturbed, much attention was given to this 
matter and informative statistics were collected. 

The matter was introduced by Miss M. Watson on behalf of the Cape 
Town Society at a Council meeting held on 6 - 7 November 1946. The 
Executive Committe was requested to investigate the circumstances of 



131 



blind persons in institutions for mentally disturbed people. 

The Organising Secretary wrote to all of the twelve institutions for 
mentally disturbed patients which existed in South Africa at that time 
for information concerning the number of blind persons in each. The 
data received was tabulated. The following is a summary of the statis- 
tics as laid before the meeting of the Executive Committee held 17-18 
April 1947. 

Number of blind patients in institutions for the mentally disturbed: 

Whites Coloureds Asians Blacks 

M. W. M. W. M. W. M. W. 

48 49 19 19 4 1 36 33 

Total : 209 

During a discussion on the matter Mrs. Wiley of Bloemfontein in- 
formed the meeting that members of the Free State Society regularly 
visited the blind in the institution in their area. 

It was then resolved that, should the Organising Secretary be in the 
vicinity of such an institution, he should visit the blind inmates in col- 
laboration with the local society for the blind. 

The case of blind persons in institutions for mentally disturbed per- 
sons was not raised again, although a committee for severely mentally 
disturbed blind persons was appointed. 

Conclusion 

This brings us to the end of the Bowen period. In the next chapter a 
resume of his life and work as well as an evaluation of the man, es- 
pecially in regard to his concern for and support of his fellow blind, 
will be given. It is worthy of note that the news of his death together 
with a photograph and short sketch of his life appeared in the ninth 
biennial report, while he himself had signed the Chairman's report in 
the same issue. The fact is that he had signed the report on 5 June 
1948, and had died on 27 June, three weeks later. His death occurred 
in Rhodesia, where he had been on holiday. 

' The willow mentioned here must not be confused with the ordinary willow tree. The willow 
used for the making of baskets is procured from a bush or shrub, also called osiers. 

2 Minutes of Council Meeting, June 1939. 

3 Paper: "Concerning the Problem of Employment" by Dr P. E. Biesenbach at the eighth 
biennial meeting of the Council held in November 1946. 

* Minutes of Executive Committee meeting held in March 1949. 

5 Held October 1944 in Cape Town. 

6 Held 9-10 November 1948. 



132 



7 Minutes of meeting of the Executive Committee held on 6-7 October, 1949. 

8 A blind person was co-opted to the Executive Committee. 

9 The Cape Province is divided into two: West and East. 
"0 S.A.B.W.O.: Jubilee Brochure, page 16-17. 

" Meeting held on 22-23 October 1947. 

•2 Ninth biennial report of council (1946-47), page 25-27 

IS S.A.B.W.O. Jubilee Brochure, page 18. 

«♦ Minutes of Executive Committee meeting, held 22-23 October 1947, page 13. 



133 



CHAPTER 6 



ROBERT WALTER BO WEN 
1888 - 1948 

In the previous chapters reference was often made to the role played by 
Adv. R. W. Bowen in promoting the growth and development of the 
S.A. National Council for the Blind. As Chairman since its inception, 
he directed the Council through difficult times with insight and sound 
judgement. Apart from his outstanding contribution in this respect, on 
which it is not necessary to dwell any further, he distinguished himself 
in many other spheres and performed exceptional services to the com- 
munity on various levels. His work and achievements on behalf of the 
blind were thus only one facet of his fruitful and active life. The fact 
that he, being blind, had had such an outstanding career and was able 
to achieve so much captured the imagination of the community and es- 
pecially of the press in those days.^ In reports about his activities and 
work reference was continually made to his blindness. The sighted 
world can, however, be forgiven for this, since he was the first blind 
person to have played such an important role in public life in South 
Africa. Nevertheless it must be acknowledged that, as a result of his 
blindness, he received more attention than would have been the case 
had he been sighted. However, it is quite clear that it did not affect 
him, as he was too well balanced, with good insight into human beha- 
viour. One report stated: "He is always referred to as the blind M.P.". 
It seemed as if the newspapers took pleasure in bestowing such a title 
on him. 

His life can be divided into three phases. The first was the period be- 
fore he became blind. The second was the advent of blindness and 
preparation in England for his life's work. The third was his return to, 
and professional career in. South Africa. If one follows the early course 
of R. W. Bowen's life, it is remarkable that, when a young man, his ca- 
reer had no connection with or preparation for his later life (after he 



134 



had become blind). As a young man he did administrative work in the 
employ of the Railways. This was very far removed from his later pro- 
fessional career as a lav^er. Can this be ascribed to his training and 
residence at St Dunstan's,^ which placed him in a totally different 
milieu as a result of his blindness.^ Did his blindness thus indirectly 
lead to the discovery of his real capabilities and potentials.^ 

He never failed to stress the importance of his sojourn at St Dun- 
stan's and often expressed publicly his sincere gratitude towards the 
organization. On one occasion, referring in a speech to the role which 
St Dunstan's had played in his life, he said: 

"The result was that blindness became less an affliction, more a 
handicap ~ less a calamity, more an opportunity." 

This philosophy derived from St Dunstan's afforded him new in- 
sight so that he could make the necessary adjustment to life. He most 
certainly made the best use of the opportunities of which he spoke. 

First Years^ 

Robert Walter Bowen was born in Durban on 3 October 1888, and was 
educated at the Durban Boys' Model School, where he matriculated at 
a much earlier age than the average candidate. 

Following this, he entered the service of the Natal Railways as a 
clerk. When the Union of South Africa came into being in 1910 he was 
transferred to Bloemfontein, and was later stationed in Johannesburg. 
After thirteen years of service in the Railways, he developed a strong 
impulse for adventure which led him to the diamond diggings near the 
Vaal River at Christiana in the Western Transvaal. While he was there, 
the First World War broke out. He enlisted in the army and at first did 
duty in South West Africa. At the end of this campaign, in July 19 15, he 
joined the 2nd S.A. Infantry Brigade, which first served in Egypt and 
later in France. 

Blinded — and thereafter 

The second phase of Bowen's life comprises the accident of his blind- 
ness on the battlefield and his residence and training at St Dunstan's, 
as well as his legal studies at Gray's Inn, London, and at Caius College, 
Cambridge University. 

The events which led to the loss of his sight as a result of war wounds 
are narrated in the biography by Dr A. W. Blaxall.* The information 
was obtained chiefly from Mr (later Dr) Hugh Stayt^, who was with 



135 



Bowen on the battlefield and an eye-witness of the events which took 
place on that fatefiil day. 

Towards the evening of 18 September 1917 various units moved 
along the Menin road near Ypres and took up their positions after dark 
in preparation for the battle which would take place in the course of a 
few days. It was a dreary evening and a soft rain had soaked their 
clothing. Everywhere there were bomb craters in which the men 
sought shelter. Throughout the night there was systematic bombing 
from the enemy lines which caused quite a number of casualties. It 
lasted until the following day, 19 September. With regard to what hap- 
pened further, Stayt writes as follows: 

"I noticed Bowen and four others had taken up a position on the 
lip of a shell crater. I and some of my pals were some 30 yards in 
front of them trying to keep dry under an old aeroplane wing. I 
heard the whine of a heavy shell. I was sure it would burst right 
on top of me, but it just passed and struck the five fellows behind 
me. I realised it was Bowen and his four companions who had 
got it. When I reached them, three were killed and two wounded. 
With some others he was bandaged and we helped him to a con- 
crete pillbox used as company headquarters." 
Stayt does not mention this in his letters, but he was the man who 
carried Bowen away from the firing line to a reasonably safe place, 
from where he w^as taken to the dressing station on a stretcher. 

Not only was his sight destroyed, but further wounds resulted in his 
having to undergo plastic surgery. This necessitated a very considera- 
ble period of hospitalisation. Months after his admission to the hospi- 
tal in Chelsea, London, a nurse told him that another South African 
had just arrived in the ward. Sergeant Bowen immediately recognised 
his voice. It turned out to be Hugh Stayt, who had been blinded by a 
bullet a few hours after Bowen. He was only seventeen years old at the 
time. 

After Bowen had been discharged from hospital he was admitted to 
St Dunstan's. Here he followed the full programme, but it appears that 
he experienced problems at first with the choice of a suitable career. It 
was the policy of St Dunstan's at that time to test the rehabilitees in dif- 
ferent directions, in order to determine where they would best fit in ac- 
cording to their abilities. We find thus that Bowen considered various 
possible vocations, for example physiotherapy, commerce, and certain 
forms of trades. At one time he even seriously considered poultry 



136 



farming, in which St Dunstan's also gave instruction. Then an offer 
came for him to study law, and he grasped the opportunity. In connec- 
tion with his studies, we quote the following from a newspaper of 
March 1937 (probably the Cape Times^). 

"Advocate Bowen . . . entered Grey's Inn as a law student. From 
there he went to Cambridge as a post-war undergraduate of 
Cams College (Cambridge University), gained both honours de- 
grees of Law, and entered the Chambers of Mr D. B. Summerval, 
now Sir David Summerval, the present Attorney- General of Eng- 
land. While in Chambers he attended Professor Nurisen's lectures 
at the London University and sat for the Legal Examination of 
the Inns of Courts, when he was placed first and was awarded the 
Sir Abe Bailey Scholarship. He returned to the Union in 1922 and 
was admitted as an Advocate of the Cape Bar." 
As regards his studies, the name of Eleanor Lillie Gillies should cer- 
tainly be mentioned. She was his inspiration, and constantly encour- 
aged him. They were married shortly before he left England in 1922 to 
practise as an advocate in South Africa. She was born in New Zealand 
and had lived with her grandmother, as both her parents had died 
when she was still very young. She had gone to England for her educa- 
tion and at the outbreak of the war she joined the V.A.D. As such she 
assisted in the ward where the blinded soldiers were accommodated 
Their friendship grew, and Dr Blaxall describes their relationship as 
follows : ^ 

''Eleanor Gillies showed him that depth of understanding and 
deep affection which draws the best out of any man, and with a 
blind man makes him realise how necessary such a companion is 
to the completion of his own life." 
It is also interesting to mention that she was the sister of Sir Harold 
Gillies the famous plastic surgeon of Harley Street, London, who per- 
formed a series of operations on Bowen. 

After the conclusion of his studies he decided to return to South Af- 
rica to practise as an advocate. 

Advocate and Parliamentarian 

The arrival of Advocate Robert Walter Bowen in Cape Town as the 
tirst blind lawyer in South Africa, was important news in the press He 
was admitted to the bar on 26 August 1922, and in connection with 
this the Cape Argus reported as follows: 



137 



"It was the leader of the Bar himself, Advocate Close K.C., 
M.L.A. who formally moved the admission of Mr. Bowen, who 
was then piloted to the desk where he subscribed to the cus- 
tomary oath, after which his Lordship (Judge Gardiner) tendered 
his congratulations." 
Scarcely a few months after he had opened an office at 4 Wale Street, 
Cape Town, he was already well known. This was naturally to his ad- 
vantage as far as the growth of his practice was concerned; neverthe- 
less, his popularity sometimes caused him some embarrassment. On 
account of his pleasant disposition and willingness to help, numerous 
people, especially ex-soldiers, flocked to his office for aid. In the blind 
advocate they recognised a man who could help to obtain justice for 
them. He concentrated chiefly on criminal cases, and through these he 
gained recognition. With regard to this aspect of his practice (which 
also gives one an insight into Bowen the man) BlaxalF writes as fol- 
lows : 

"Professional friends who at flrst found him puzzling, at times 
slightly annoying, came to have profound respect for his skill and 
courage. It is natural that they find explanation for his success 
from the more obvious features of his life and practice. Some of 
his colleagues discussed this with me and suggested three reasons 
why he developed the particular practice which led him to be re- 
garded as the special friend and advocate of the poor and outcast. 
In the first place everyone found him absolutely open and frank . 
. . A second factor of importance was his ready wit. His greatest 
friends admit that there were times when his persistence became 
almost exasperating ... 

Finally all his colleagues agreed that his phenomenal memory 
was more than a mere asset, it commanded unstinting respect^ 
Advocate Austin Sutton recalls that on one occasion he quoted 
without reference almost the whole of a complicated and lengthy 
report with complete accuracy." 
He was thus not a legal man who remained in his chambers and 
busied himself mainly with paper work and consultations. He was too 
much of an outgoing personality, who did most of his work in the 
courts where he could match his skill against that of his opponent, in 
spite of the latter being a sighted person. 

Two years after he had begun to practise as an advocate, in 1924, he 



138 



entered public life and became a member of the Cape Provincial 
Council. He represented the Gardens constituency. 

Five years later, at the time of the parliamentary election of 1929, he 
was nominated as the candidate for the constituency of Cape Town 
Central. His opponent was a member of the now defunct Labour 
Party. The name of this constituency was later changed to Green Point. 
He won this seat and retained it until his death in 1948. 

The most outstanding piece of legislation for which he was respon- 
sible was the Blind Persons Act which was passed by Parliament in 
1936 (Act No. 11 of 1936). He was also periodically responsible for 
amendments to the Act, mainly to raise the pensions and to lower the 
amount of income by which the means test was determined. 

Another interesting measure which he tried to steer through parlia- 
ment as a private member was connected with the so-called "tot" sys- 
tem, which he tried to have removed or at least modified. According to 
him this was in the interest of the Coloured people on the farms. The 
weight of the opposition he received was too strong, however, and he 
failed to achieve his goal. 

He was often mentioned in parliamentary press reports for his ex- 
cellent memory, as well as for his recognition of human voices. The 
Natal Mercury reports as follows: 

"Though deprived of the support of notes or manuscript. Advo- 
cate Bowen may develop into one of the "orators" of the House 
of Assembly. He is one of the best speakers among the new and 
young blood the last general election introduced to the Union 
Parliament ... Mr Bowen is getting to know members of Parlia- 
ment and the political journalists by their footsteps and voices. 
He knows the voices of all the members of General Hertzog's 
Cabinet in parliamentary debate ... He asks for no privileges in 
the House and is on his feet with remarkable alacrity when he 
wants to 'catch Mr Speaker's eye'." 

Other interests 

Advocate Bowen took an active interest in the activities of ex-sol- 
diers and often delivered addresses at official functions and gatherings. 
His favourite organization of course was St. Dunstan's. Whenever the 
opportunity arose he paid tribute to the Association, not only for what 
it had done for blinded soldiers, but especially for what it had achieved 
in forming public opinion regarding blindness. For many years he was 



139 



the provincial head (Old Bill) of the M.O.T.H.S. organization, which 
consisted entirely of ex-soldiers. He officiated at Dellville Wood mem- 
orial ceremonies and services on numerous occasions, and took part in 
parades. He did not confine himself to the Cape Peninsula, but often 
appeared in other centres as w^ell. He also took part in functions in 
connection with the Cape Corps. 

He played an active role in the Sons of England Society, and was the 
Grand President of that organization from 1944 to 1946. 

The extent of his reputation is shown by the numerous gatherings of 
divergent organizations which he addressed; to mention but a few: the 
congress of the S.A. National Council for Child Welfare, Rotary Clubs, 
the Cape Community Chest, Toe H, the Educational Society of the 
University of Cape Town, and the Church Lads' Brigade. This does not 
include the numerous times when he acted on behalf of the blind, and 
especially the S.A. National Council for the Blind. 

The most important social service which he performed, however, 
was on behalf of his fellow blind people. His heart and soul was in this 
work. The history of the S.A. National Council for the Blind up to 
1948 is also the history of his multifarious and dedicated services to the 
blind of all population groups in South Africa. 

This has previously been fully described. He declared on one oc- 
casion that the two most outstanding achievements of the National 
Council under his leadership were the passing of the Blind Persons Act 
and the foundation of the Bureau for the Preventation of Blindness. 

The Athlone School for the Blind must of course be mentioned, as 
its foundation and development were chiefly due to his efforts. The 
history of the Athlone School, which is recounted elsewhere, is evi- 
dence of this. 

With regard to the establishment of the Cape Town Civilian Blind 
Society Mrs Bowen especially played an important role. As Chairman 
of the S.A. National Council for the Blind Adv. Bowen displayed a 
keen interest in all the organizations for the blind in the country. Thus, 
for example, Dr P. E. Biesenbach, Principal of the Worcester School 
for the Blind at that time, wrote: 

"His interest in the Worcester School for the Blind, where I was 
principal, was very genuine, and where the interests of the school 
clashed with some blind agency or other I could always rely on 
Mr Bowen for his objective ruling as Chairman."* 



140 



His views on blindness 

Advocate Bowen was often requested to address meetings or to write 
articles about his blindness. He never hesitated to speak freely about it. 
He was always honest and direct, but was careful to explain that the 
views expressed were his own and that attitudes differed from person 
to person. He also explained that a difference existed between a person 
born blind and one that had become blind. He was already an adult 
(thirty years of age) when he lost his sight and he retained a strong vis- 
ual memory. This is not possible in persons born blind. They have to 
depend much more on their senses. When he was a student, for 
example, he took down his lecture notes in ordinary handwriting and 
these were later rewritten in braille, or read to him by a friend or an 
amanuensis. (Those were the days before tape-recorders were in use). 

On the other hand, however, the emotional shock which follows 
sudden blindness can bring about far-reaching consequences for such 
a person, which may cause serious damage to his personality. With re- 
gard to this Bowen wrote the following in an article in the Outspan: 
"In the first hour of my realisation that I would never again see, I 
drank all the bitterness and anguish it was possible for me to feel. 
I came out of that hour with a determination to face facts as they 
really are, and make the best of all that remained." 
To illustrate that it is not possible to generalise about blindness, he 
made the following assertion: 

"The disability of blindness is as relative a question as the privi- 
lege of sight itself." 
And further: 

"It would indeed be an awful tragedy if the fact of one's blindness 
was always a conscious dominating fact in one's mind. I go for 
days at a time without consciously appreciating the fact that I am 
blind." 

Yet we find the following significant confession: 

"I have often been very annoyed with myself for not being able to 
see, very often amused, and very often decidedly angry with those 
who wish to assist me in their way to a better understanding of 
things as they really are. But I am never depressed." 
We now take leave of this aspect of his life with appreciation for his 
candour and sincerity as well as for his well-balanced oudook on life, 
which should serve as an example for many young people. 



141 



Bowen the ordinary man 

What kind of man was Mike Bowen? (That is how he was known to his 
friends.) He was certainly full of the zest for life, enjoyed social com- 
munication, had a fine sense of humour which caused him to laugh at 
himself, and was able to counteract restrictions brought about by 
blindness without any unnecessary frustrations. It is told that he was an 
exceptional bridge player, loved "cowboy" stories, and thoroughly en- 
joyed an afternoon at the race course. Coupled to what has already 
been written above, we can deduce that he had a versatile personality 
which enabled him to adapt himself to all circumstances and persons. 

Miss A. F. Gillies (niece of Mr Bowen) tells this amusing anecdote 
about the parrot which he possessed. In the afternoons on his arrival 
home the bird greeted him enthusiastically and a conversation usually 
took place between them. So if there was nobody at home when he ar- 
rived he amused himself by talking to the parrot. But one day the par- 
rot disappeared and consternation and grief reigned. Even notices in 
the "lost" columns brought no results. Quite a while later a lady from 
Sea Point rang (Bowen lived in the Gardens, several kilometres away) 
and said that she had found a parrot on a bench along the esplanade 
which continually called out: "Vote for Bowen!" His master had 
taught him these words during a former election. Bill and Mike were 
thus united once more. 

He always prided himself on his missionary background. His father 
had emigrated from England in 1879 as a member of a regiment which 
took part in the Zulu war. After the end of hostilities Andrew James 
Bowen remained among the Zulus for several more years, and taught 
them various skills, such as the making of bricks and the building of 
houses, but he also brought them the word of God. Therefore Blaxall 
writes :^ 

"A strong religious atmosphere always prevailed in the Bowen 
family, and it was doubdess his father's generous interest in the 
welfare of the Zulu people among whom he found himself that 
led Mike frequently to say that he was proud to regard himself of 
missionary tradition." 
In this connection Dr P. E. Biesenbach relates the following anec- 
dote 

"In 1937 we were having an Executive Meedng in Port Elizabeth. 
These meetings were usually opened with prayer and we were 



142 



somewhat surprised when a member got up right at the very be- 
ginning of the meeting and moved that this practice be discarded. 
Mr Bowen's reaction left no doubt as to how he felt. He did not 
even wait for the speaker to finish what he had to say, asked for 
no seconder, dropped his fist on the table and said: 'Not as long 
as I am Chairman. Biesenbach, will you open with prayer.^' And 
that was the end of it." 

One certainly has the right to wonder what his attitude towards Af- 
rikaans and the Afrikaans-speaking section of the population had been 
as a member of the Provincial Council and a parliamentarian. During 
that time (1924-1948) there were many stirrings on the political scene. 
Certain political parties, such as the Labour Party and the Dominion 
Party, had disappeared, as well as the old S.A. Party as a result of coali- 
tion with a certain section of the National Party. The batde smoke of 
the First World War had not yet disappeared entirely when there were 
already distinct signs of a second great holocaust in the offing. Emo- 
tions ran high. Towards the end of the Second World War the war at- 
mosphere was still strong while the country struggled to return to nor- 
mal. Bowen's role during that period is portrayed in numerous press 
cuttings in the scrapbook, and it can categorically be said that his ac- 
tions and pronouncements never played off the one section of the 
nation against the other. In fact one gets the impression that he pur- 
posefully strove towards national unity. In his speeches he often men- 
tioned the fact that just as many Afrikaans as English names appear on 
war monuments of soldiers who had died on the battlefield. The fol- 
lowing are a few extracts from a speech which he made in Cape Town 
on 17 July 1938, on the occasion of the commemoration of the battle 
of Dellville Wood on 16 July 1916: 

"Out of the 150 000 South Africans who represented this Union 
of ours on foreign batdefields, no distinction can be drawn be- 
cause of the language they spoke or the particular section of the 
community from which they sprang. English- and Afrikaans- 
speaking citizens were taken and hammered out into one homo- 
geneous unit." 

"Our nation is made up of two main sections of our people. 
There was no monopoly of patriodsm shown by any one sec- 
tion." 

"It seems to me that we must maintain for all time the truly 



143 



national spirit which was shown by our country during the period 
when self-sacrifice was expected." 
It seems as if he specially chose this day to convey to his audience, 
and possibly also to a wider circle, his profound conviction of the ur- 
gency of national unity. It was never possible to doubt his intense love 
for his country. South Africa. 

Advocate Bowen enjoyed a very happy married life, and the sudden 
death of his wife in 1938 must have left a great void. Her family often 
came to visit. One such person was Miss Ailie Gillies, a niece of Mrs 
Bowen. She took the management of the Bowen household upon her- 
self after the death of her aunt, but she was not only responsible for the 
housekeeping, as she herself declared: 

"I was Mr Bowen' s eyes, chauffeur, housewife, and companion 
until his death. I learned much about the courts and found myself 
summing up the cases, travelling extensively in the Union and 
reading 'cowboy' stories aloud during the long train journeys, for 
a train journey to Mr Bowen was a relaxed holiday." 
In spite of his balanced outlook and the full and successful life which 
he led, which most assuredly afforded him great satisfaction and con- 
tentment, he also experienced periods of stress. In regard to this Dr 
Blaxall mentions that the long series of operations which he had to 
undergo to build up his face (nose, cheeks, etc) left its mark, which 
caused attacks of physical pain periodically throughout his life. This 
then brought on serious conditions of tension. It was a very well kept 
secret, which only a few people shared with him. It undoubtedly ex- 
hausted him in body and soul, and led to his comparatively early de- 
mise. 

Although his death can be considered to have been sudden, he had 
suffered a collapse about six months previously, towards the end of 
1947, as a result of high blood pressure. The doctor prescribed com- 
plete rest and he tried to adhere to this as far as possible. He was ob- 
liged, however, to carry out his usual parliamentary duties at the be- 
ginning of the year. But the session was not long, as an election was 
scheduled for May of that year (1948). He was spared the campaign, 
however, as he was elected unopposed. 

Last days 

Towards the middle of June 1948 he went on holiday with the Gillies 
family to the Victoria Falls. He had looked forward to this with keen 



144 



anticipation. On the train he contracted a cold, which developed into 
pneunomia. After a day in bed at the hotel a doctor was called in and 
he was taken to a hospital in Livingstone. His condition deteriorated 
and on 27 June 1948 he passed away. He was cremated in Durban and 
a memorial service was held in Cape Town. Tributes of esteem were re- 
ceived from all over the country and from many sections of the com- 
munity. 

There are two separate tokens of appreciation for the great services 
which he rendered to the blind of our country. The one is the mem- 
orial chapel (with the organ) which was erected at the Athlone School 
for the Blind, and the other is the institution of the R. W. Bowen Medal 
by the S.A. National Council for the Blind. This medal is periodically 
presented to persons who have rendered lifelong service to the cause of 
the blind. 

A bust which had been made of Advocate Bowen by the famous 
English sculptress, Clare Sheridan, was presented to the Athlone 
School for the Blind by Miss A. F. Gillies and has been placed in a 
niche in the memorial chapel. 

The National Council reveres the memory of Robert Walter Bowen. 

' Mrs Bowen compiled a series of newspaper cuttings which were continued after her death by 
Miss GilHes. These valuable documents not only illustrate Bowen's role in the community, but 
also give a good insight into the general trends of thought in the political, cultural and social 
spheres of the twenties, thirties and forties. The present writer was granted perusal of these cut- 
tings through the kind co-operation of Miss A. F. Gillies. 

2 St. Dunstan's, which has been referred to previously, is a large organization which was founded 
in England during the first world war (1914-1918), for the rehabilitation and training of 
blinded ex-soldiers. 

Data about his life, work and thoughts were gained from various sources. Firstly can be men- 
tioned the short biography by A. W. Blaxall: Blindness his Servant. Then also, P. E. Biesenbach 
contributed an articte about him to Braillorama. Numerous facts were gathered from the afore- 
mentioned scrapbooks, articles in magazines of St. Dunstan's and other organizations, and per- 
sonal information supplied by Miss A. F. Gillies and other persons. 

4 Blindness his Servant, pages 6-7. 

5 The letters which Stay t wrote to Mr Blaxall are preserved in the book of cuttings which are in 
Miss A. F. Gilhes possession. 

6 This cutting was found in the book of cuttings, but the source is not indicated. 

7 Blindness his Servant, pages 11-12. 

8 From an article in Braillorama, about the middle of 1969. 

9 Blindness his Servant, page 3. 

10 Braillorama: Uit die pen van die Gaal (Dr P. E. Biesenbach). 



145 



CHAPTER 7 



A NEW ORGANIZATION PATTERN - I 
1949 to 1961 

The period which is being dealt with in this chapter, namely the twelve 
years from 1949 to 1961, brought about a new approach to the pro- 
vision of services for the blind. It was the time when specialist commit- 
tees which would direct the various facets of the National Council's 
work were appointed. This development brought about a more effec- 
tive organization pattern, which had already been started when the Bu- 
reau for the Prevention of Blindness was established. Further to assist 
the committees the constitution of Council made provision for the ad 
hoc appointment of technical advisers who were not necessarily mem- 
bers of Council. Besides the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness, 
the following special committees^ were instituted: 

Committee for Rehabilitation and Placement^ 

Committee for Literature, Education and Research 

Committee for Blind Blacks^ 

Public Relations Committee 

Finance and General Purposes Committee 

Committee for the Partially Sighted. 
Besides the special committees a number of sub-committees were 
also established which can be considered to be permanent. They are 
the following: 

Legal and Constitution Sub-committee 

Gaps in Services Sub-committee 

Sub-committee for International Relations 

Sub-committee for Imfama (magazine). 
In this context should be mentioned the establishment of two Divi- 
sions of Council which play an important role in services to the blind 
of two specific population groups. They are: 

Division for Coloured Blind 

Division for Indian BHnd. 



146 



The two Divisions as well as the permanent sub-committees were es- 
tablished during a later period in the history of the National Council, 
and will thus be dealt with in a following chapter. 

The question may arise why 1961 has been specially chosen as the 
closmg year of this period. Firstly it can be mentioned that 1961 was 
the year when Dr Louis van Schalkwijk died while serving as Chairman 
of Council. It was not only as Chairman, however, that he had served 
the Council so excellently. He had been concerned with its foundation 
and gave direction to its development over a period of more than diirty 
years. His death must thus be considered to mark the end of an era in 
the history of the South African National Council for die Blind. 

In the year 1961 other important events also took place which were 
of special interest to the Council and the blind as a whole. In 1961 Dr 
P. E Biesenbach retired as Principal of the Worcester School for the 
Blind. Apart from the pioneer work which he had done in die interest 
of education of the blind, he was also a founder member of die Coun- 
cil and for many years intimately involved with it. His successor was 
Mr Theodore Pauw, who was destined to play an important role not 
only in the field of educadon but also in the broad framework of ser- 
vices to the blind and especially the National Council. A detailed re- 
port on this will follow later on. It can also be mentioned with regard 
to the year 1961 that it was also the year in which the Organising Secre- 
tary of Council at the time, Mr D. J. van Wyk, died. He had served die 
Council in this capacity for nearly two decades. In his place Mr S K 
Wentworth, who had then already been the Director of die Bureau for 
the Prevention of Blindness for fifteen years, was appointed. 

With these introductory remarks we return to the circumstances 
which prevailed at the death of Advocate Bowen. 

At the ninth biennial meeting of the National Council held in East 
London on 9- 1 1 November 1948 Rev. A. W. Blaxall was elected Acdng 
Chairman following the death of Advocate R. W. Bowen In terms of 
the constitution Mrs C. Cawston, as elected Vice- Chairman of Council 
should have taken the Chair, but she was unable to attend die meeting 
In such a case the constitution decreed diat the meeting itself should 
elect an Acting Chairman until such time as the election of officers for 
the following biennial term should take place. The choice fell on Mr 
Blaxall. 

The first item on the agenda was reference to the deadi of Adv. 



147 



Bowen, after which the Acting Chairman introduced the following 
motion: 

"This Ninth Meeting of the S.A. National Council for the Blind 
hereby unanimously resolves to minute the deep sense of loss sus- 
tained by the death on the 27th June, 1948, of Robert Walter 
Bowen, Member of Parliament, Chairman of the Council since 
the first meeting held in Cape Town, in March 1929. Through the 
intervening years Mr Bowen proved himself a wise guide, a sound 
counsellor, an indefatigable worker, and - above all - by the 
example of his personal victory over blindness he inspired the 
blind of all races in our land, as well as those who work for the 
prevention and conquest of blindness. 

In particular this meeting records that the fact that South Africa 
has on its Statute Book a Blind persons Act is largely due to the 
tenacity of Mr Bowen, and the able manner in which he guided 
the negotiations at which the Bill was drafted, as well as the way 
he led the discussion in Parliament. As a result of this legislation, 
thousands of sighdess people in every corner of our country 
today live a happier and fuller life." 
Thereafter the Secretary for Social Welfare, Mr G. A. C. Kuschke, 
delivered the opening address. In his speech Mr Kuschke quoted 
figures of the number of handicapped persons of all race groups in the 
country, and the expenditure incurred by the state (8 per cent of the 
total) for their support. This figure also included financial assistance to 
ex-servicemen who at that time were in dire need of care. These cir- 
cumstances caused the Department of Social Welfare to appoint a 
committee to investigate the question of sheltered employment. This 
was the so-called Williamson Committee, the report of which ap- 
peared in 1950. One of the terms of reference specially included finan- 
cial aid to, and control over workshops for the blind.* 

It should be mentioned here that at this meeting two important re- 
solutions were adopted. The first was an urgent representation to the 
Department of Union Education to make provision for the education 
of partially sighted children. A memorandum would be sent to the De- 
partment, followed by a deputation consisting of members of the 
Executive Committee. 

The second resolution concerned welfare work amongst blind 
Blacks. Mr Blaxall made a strong plea for a comprehensive pro- 
gramme for the development of welfare work among blind Blacks in 



148 



the four provinces. This would also include work in the "protectorates 
and Southern Rhodesia". 

In connection with this it was also resolved to make representations 
to the authorities concerned to establish schools for blind Blacks. Blind 
Black children were allowed to enrol at the Athlone School for the 
Blind at Bellville, Cape, at that time. 

When the election of officers took place the Rev. A. W. Blaxall was 
elected to the Chair and Mr J. Hamilton Russell, M.P., as Vice-Chair- 
man. He was the representative of the Athlone School for the Blind. 
Mr D. N. Murray was elected treasurer. 

The four members of Council who were elected to serve on the 
Executive Committee were: 

Dr P. E. Biesenbach, Mrs M. Marks, Miss J. E. Wood and Mr V. 
H. Vaughan. 

The five members elected to represent the provinces (two for the 
Cape Province) were: 

Mr A. B. W. Marlow, Miss A. M. Rogers, Mrs V. Fleming, Mrs M. 
Myers and Mr W. H. Green. 
We shall now deal with the establishment and activities of the special 
committees of Council. 

Committee for Employment and Rehabilitation 

Previously it was reported that at a meeting of the Executive Commit- 
tee held in March 1949 a sub-committee had been appointed to inves- 
tigate "the feasibility of establishing an Employment Bureau for blind 
and partially sighted persons". The sub-committee presented its 
findings to the Executive Committee of Council in October 1949 and 
recommended that such a bureau should not be established. Possibly 
both the sub-committee and the Executive Committee had sufficient 
confidence in the professional section of the Department of Labour to 
cope effectively with the placement of blind and partially sighted per- 
sons. The establishment of a bureau or committee for placement as 
well as the appointment of a placement officer was thus not realised. 
This was the position for the following three years, i.e. from 1949 to 
1952. 

At the biennial meeting of Council held in Grahamstown in 1952 
the establishment of a "Committee for Employment" was again raised 
by the chairman of the sub-committee which had investigated the mat- 
ter in 1949. The Chairman of Council (Rev. A. W. Blaxall) was unwil- 



149 



ling to allow the matter to be discussed again. However, on account of 
pressure brought to bear upon him, he allowed the chairman of the 
sub-committee to state his case. He was allowed "only three minutes" 
to do so.* After the urgency of the establishment of a Committee for 
Employment had again been stressed no discussion followed and it ap- 
peared as if the matter, temporarily at least, was dropped. 

However, at a meeting of the Executive Committee held in Cape 
Town on 1 and 2 April 1954 a comprehensive memorandum was pre- 
sented by Mr V. H. Vaughan "on the establishment of a Bureau for the 
Enployment of Blind Persons". 

In the introductory paragraph the writer made the statement that, in 
spite of the appointment of various committees over a number of years 
to investigate the matter as well as the establishment of a section in the 
Department of Labour for the placement of handicapped persons, 
"the problem as a whole remained unsolved". Just as the Bureau for 
the Prevention of Blindness showed progress only after the appoint- 
ment of a director, the writer considered that this would also be the 
case with regard to the suggested Bureau for Employment of Blind 
Persons, Therefore he proposed that such a bureau be established and 
that a director be appointed. 

It is also interesting to note that in the memorandum it was pro- 
posed that the director should not only concern himself with the indi- 
vidual placement of persons in "outside jobs" but also pay attention to 
the "wide field of the economic and occupational adjustment of the 
blind in our country". On this account it was advocated further that 
the bureau should, inter alia, give assistance to prospective university 
students (including the supply of study material in braille and guidance 
in connection with the choice of subjects and related matters). Advice 
and aid should be given to those blind persons who wished to conduct 
their own business affairs. This would include "the testing of ability, 
skill, aptitude, intelligence, personality, conditions of stress, etc.", the 
study of types of work and factory conditions where blind people 
would be taken into employment. Research was also advocated. The 
memorandum ended with an exposition of the attributes which a di- 
rector of the bureau and his assistant should possess. 

In the light of experience over the years, it seems as if the project as 
described in the memorandum was too ambitious, although it con- 
tained certain elements which could have been applied with good re- 
sults. 



150 



After the memorandum^ had been discussed it was resolved firstly 
that the scheme as set forth in the memorandum be approved, 
secondly that the Department of Labour be approached to subsidise 
such a bureau, and lastly "that a sub-committee consisting of Dr Van 
Schalkwijk, Messrs Vaughan and Van Wyk submit a statement at the 
follov^ing meeting of the Executive Committee concerning particulars 
of the scheme with special reference to the financial implications". 

Probably the idea of a bureau did not meet with the approval of the 
Executive Committee, for at its next meeting, held on 27-28 September 
1954, it was resolved that a "Sectional Committee for Employment" be 
appointed. The resolution read as follows: 

"(a) That a Sectional Committee be appointed to assist the Secre- 
tary as far as placement of blind persons in the open labour 
market is concerned; 

(b) That this Placement Committee be given power to act in re- 
gard to the appointment of a placement officer; 

(c) That the Department of Labour be asked to subsidise ex- 
penses attached to the post of placement officer; 

(d) That all matters in connection with the placement of blind 
persons which have been broached in this meeting be referred 
to the committee." 

The election of the committee (officially known as the Employment 
Committee) took place at a meeting of Council held on 29-30 Septem- 
ber 1954, directly after the meeting of the Executive Committee. Five 
members were elected, and later five more were co-opted by the com- 
mittee itself. Mr J. H. van Niekerk was nominated as Chairman. He 
was one of the representatives of the S.A. Blind Workers Organization, 
and one of the three blind members who were co-opted to serve on the 
Executive Committee. This proved to be a very fortunate choice, 
considering that he, as a blind person, was following a successful 
career in the open labour world, both as a piano tuner and a business- 
man. In addition to this he was dexterous with his hands and would 
often demonstrate certain operations to prove to employers what blind 
people were capable of doing. He had a good insight into the circum- 
stances of his blind colleagues, knew their strengths and weaknesses, 
and exerted himself with much enthusiasm to get them placed in em- 
ployment. He regularly accompanied the employment officer to inves- 
tigate new avenues of employment and was himself actively concerned 
with placement. At the first conference which was held on industrial 



151 



ophthalmology in November 1958 in Johannesburg, he delivered an 
informative address on the rehabilitation of the blinded worker. After 
having served as Chairman of the Committee for ten years, and six 
years thereafter as an ordinary member, he had regrettably to resign 
because of personal business commitments. He will be remembered as 
the person responsible for laying the foundation for the placement of 
blind persons in the open labour market as far as the S.A. National 
Council is concerned. 

The first two meetings of the newly established Employment com- 
mittee were held within a short time of each other, namely on 6 and 12 
November 1954. 

It was resolved at these meetings that it be recommended to the 
Executive Committee to appoint an employment officer as soon as 
possible. A memorandum was submitted which set out the duties of 
such an officer. The possibility of obtaining a subsidy on his salary 
from the Department of Labour was also discussed. It was then re- 
solved that representations to the Department be made accordingly. 

After the Organising Secretary of Council had been notified of this 
resolution he immediately made representations to the Department of 
Labour for a subsidy on the salary of the placement officer. 

In connection with this the minutes of the Executive Committee 
meeting of 3 March 1955 read as follows: 

"The Secretary reported that representations both verbally and 
by letter have been made to the Department of Labour for the 
subsidisation of the salary etc. of an employment officer. These 
representations were followed up by an interview with the Minis- 
ter of Labour in Cape Town on 28 February. The interview with 
the Minister of Labour was attended by the Chairman of Council, 
Mr M. C. Botha, M.P. for Roodepoort, and the Organising Sec- 
retary. The Minister was sympathetic but would not take a de- 
cision until the matter had been dealt with by the Rehabilitation 
Council and he had been advised by that body." 
The Rehabilitation Council was a body which had been established 
by the Minister of Labour, and consisted of nominees from various 
social welfare bodies. 

It would appear, however, that the Department of Labour was not 
in favour of subsidising the post of employment officer.^ "Dr Wright, 
the representative of the Department of Labour, gave full particulars of 
negotiations between the Department of Labour and commerce and 



152 



industry in regard to the question of employing the blind in the open 
labour market ... The efforts were met with a certain amount of suc- 
cess. Dr Wright drew the attention of the meeting to the Placement 
Committees of the Department of Labour in the larger centres, which 
he stated as becoming increasingly effective in the work that they are 
doing, and that recently they have been handling more and more cases 
of persons who are blind or are about to go blind." « 

After a long debate on the matter it was eventually resolved that "the 
appointment of an employment officer be referred back to the Em- 
ployment Committee with the request that in pursuing the matter 
further, they have regard to the discussions which had taken place at 
this meeting of the Executive Committee". ^ 

It thus appears that grave doubts existed among the members of the 
Executive Committee as to what line they should take. For more than 
25 years (since the foundation of the Council), the placement of blind 
persons in open labour was a burning question which caused the 
Council a great deal of perplexity because so little progress had been 
made in all that time. On the one hand the financial aspect caused 
anxiety, because it seemed as if no State subsidy was forthcoming. On 
the other hand the prospects as oudined by the Department of Labour 
caused quite a number of members to decide that the matter should be 
left in abeyance, so as to see what success the Department would have. 
Other members were more in favour of agreeing to the request of the 
Placement Committee to appoint an employment officer immediately 
There was a strong feeling that, considering that placement of blind 
persons was a specialised field, the responsibility therefore should be 
undertaken by an expert appointed in the Department of Labour. If 
this did not happen, not much placement of blind persons in open la- 
bour would take place. The strong standpoint taken up by the rep- 
resentative of the Department of Labour, however, was the decisive 
factor which influenced the members to adopt a waiting attitude in the 
prevailing circumstances. Consequently it was resolved that the matter 
be referred back to the Placement Committee, with a fairly broad hint 
that a waiting attitude should be adopted. 

This, however, did not occur. At the following meeting of the 
Executive Committee held on 2, 3 and 4 November 1955 the first re- 
port of the Chairman of the Employment Committee was tabled, in 
which it was stated that the Committee had resolved: 

"That irrespective of whether a subsidy is received from the De- 



153 



partment of Labour on the salary of the Employment Officer, 
such an official be appointed, and that representations be made 
to the Departments of Labour and Social Welfare for the payment 
of a subsidy." 
Furthermore : 

"The post of Employment and Field Officer was advertised and 
thirteen applications were received. After elimination only one 
remained. This applicant on being invited to Johannesburg for 
the interview withdrew his application. It has now been decided 
to re-advertise the post." 
The report was approved without much further ado by the Executive 
Committee. This was somewhat surprising, since the latter, at its pre- 
vious meeting, had serious doubts about the wisdom of appointing an 
employment officer. Even the Department of Labour, through its rep- 
resentative, did not raise its voice in protest. 

The remainder of the Chairman's report indicated that the Commit- 
tee had already in the first year of its existence set about its task with 
enthusiasm and dedication. The following were some of its achieve- 
ments and proposed projects: 

1 . The compilation of data to ascertain the extent of the employment 
problem of blind White persons in South Africa. In connection with 
this, a pilot survey was made of those (a) employed in open labour, 
(b) in sheltered employment, (c) unemployed, (d) over the age of 60 
years. 

2. The compilation of a complete register of applicants for employ- 
ment. 

3. Investigation as to the possibility of establishing workshops 
equipped with lathes, assembly benches and other machinery in 
factory areas where blind persons could be employed as well as 
trained. 

4. The procuring of information from overseas concerning the place- 
ment of blind persons. 

5. The placement of blind persons in open labour. In connection with 
this, it was reported that during the year 1 7 out of 23 persons were 
placed in employment with the aid of (a) the Department of La- 
bour, (b) the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness, (c) the S.A. 
Blind Workers' Organization, (d) private initiative. 

6. Investigation into the "efficiency and usefulness of blind physio- 
therapists in so far as electronic apparatus is concerned". This mat- 



154 



ter was laid before the S.A* National Council for the Blind by the 
Director of Hospital Services of the Transvaal. In this connection 
the Chairman of the Employment Committee reported as follows: 
"As certain blind physiotherapists felt that their capabilities had 
been doubted, the matter was referred by the Blind Workers' Orga- 
nization to the Employment Committee, which Committee recom- 
mends that the Sub-Committee previously appointed, investigate 
the matter in collaboration with the newly established Advisory 
Council for Blind Physiotherapists. The Advisory Council consists 
of four blind physiotherapists and members of the S.A. Society of 
Physiotherapists". The Sub-Committee consisted of Dr L. van 
Schalkwijk, Dr C. W. Wright (Department of Labour) and the Orga- 
nising Secretary. 

Amongst its other duties it appeared that the Employment Commit- 
tee was also responsible for the screening of candidates for the course 
in physiotherapy at the R.N.I.B. in London. A screening committee 
was appointed upon which the physiotherapy profession was rep- 
resented. 

In one of his later reports the Chairman called attention to the fact 
that serious problems had arisen with regard to the employment of 
blind telephone operators following the installation of flicker lights on 
the new telephone boards. A technical sub-committee was appointed 
to negotiate with the engineers of the post office regarding the possi- 
bility of making certain alterations in order to make it possible for 
blind telephone operators to manipulate the new boards. 

At that time (1956) there was a strong movement for the estab- 
lishment of a centre for the rehabilitation of persons blinded in later 
life. Consequently we find that the Employment Committee recom- 
mended to the Council that full particulars concerning the objects of 
such a centre and the costs involved be submitted to the Department of 
Social Welfare with a view to obtaining a subsidy. The Council 
adopted a resolution to this effect. 

Considering that the activities of the Employment Committee had 
expanded, it was resolved by Council at its 1956 meeting that the name 
of the Committee be changed so as to indicate its wider field of activity. 
It would henceforth be known as the Committee for Rehabilitation, 
Training and Employment.'' The word training was probably inserted 
because the Committee zealously campaigned for the establishment of 
a technical training centre for blind artisans, from where they would 



155 



then be placed in industry. It was envisaged that such a centre would 
form part of an existing workshop. This project, however, never be- 
came a reality. Discussions at first took place with the Johannesburg 
Society to Help Civilian Blind, who were unwilling to co-operate, and 
later with the S.A. Blind Worker's Organization. The latter also consi- 
dered the scheme to be too ambitious. The result was that the word 
"training" was later deleted from the name of the Committee. 

Appointment of Officer 

After the person who had been appointed to the post of placement of- 
ficer had resigned before he assumed office, the post was again adver- 
tised and from a large number of applications received, Mr D.J. Kocks 
was appointed. He should thus be considered to be the first placement 
officer on the establishment of the National Council. He assumed duty 
on 1 July 1957. Unfortunately he did not remain long and left the ser- 
vice of the Council on 15 August 1958. However, various de- 
velopments took place during his term of office, a few of which should 
be mentioned here. It must be stressed that the individual placements 
and projects were often the joint efforts of different bodies. Thus we 
find the following statement in the Chairman's report covering the 
period 1957 to 1958: 

"In collaboration with the Blind Workers' Organization, the De- 
partment of Labour, the Lighthouse Club for the Blind, and the 
Natal European and Coloured Civilian Blind Association, 33 Eu- 
ropean blind persons were placed in the open labour market, and 
followed up." 

Various new avenues of employment for blind persons were ex- 
plored. One of these was film splicing for blind women. In connection 
with this the Chairman remarked: "It is interesting to note that these 
blind ladies are working considerably faster than their sighted prede- 
cessors, in fact, the overseas job rate on this specific line was achieved 
for the first time in South Africa by two of these blind girls." 

Considerable attention was given to the placement of blind Blacks in 
open labour. Valuable assistance was obtained from the Transvaal So- 
ciety for Non- European Blind at Ezenzeleni near Roodepoort, where a 
number of blind Blacks were trained for the packaging industry. Sev- 
eral were then placed with packaging firms. 

A fairly extensive scheme was also started for the employment of blind 
Blacks as seasonal workers on tobacco farms in the Potgietersrust area. 



156 



The possibility of appointing blind persons as interpreters in courts 
was also investigated. It was found, however, that it could only be done 
on a part-time basis. As far as could be ascertained this did not become 
a reality. Such interpreters were also required to perform other tasks 
for which sight was essential. 

Considering that the chief avenue of employment for the blind was 
telephony, and certain problems were encountered, it was decided to 
arrange a conference on the training and employment of blind tele- 
phonists. Interested organizations and State departments were invited 
to send representatives. 

The meeting took place on 4 October 1957 in Johannesburg. The 
following were represented: 

The S.A. National Council for the Blind 

The Department of Education, Arts and Science 

The Department of Labour 

The Department of Posts and Telegraphs . ^ 

Worcester School for the Blind 

Johannesburg Society to Help Civilian Blind 

Pretoria Society for Civilian Blind 

Transvaal Society for Non- European Blind 

S.A. Blind Workers' Organization. 

The fact that the above bodies, which included three State depart- 
ments, had sent representatives, indicated the seriousness with which 
the matter was regarded at the time. A greater awareness had de- 
veloped in both the private as well as the public sectors in connection 
with placement and therefore also the integration of blind persons in 
the community. 

Because the holding of the conference emanated from the Commit- 
tee for Rehabilitation, Training and Employment, its Chairman, Mr J. 
H. van Niekerk, took the Chair. The following is a synopsis of the mat- 
ters which received attention: 

The minimum requirements for a qualified telephonist, screening 
and testing of candidates for training, issuing of proficiency certificates 
by the General Post Office, bilingualism, knowledge of braille and 
typing, appearance and temperament of the person, methods of train- 
ing. New developments in connection with switchboards were again 
discussed, and in what way they would affect the future of the blind 
telephonist. Furthermore, it was resolved to hold a continuation con- 



157 



ference in November 1957 at the Worcester School for the Blind, 
where attention would specifically be given to training methods. 

On 12 February 1958 a consolidated report on both conferences was 
issued. It contained the resolutions which had been passed in connec- 
tion with the standard of training, the academic qualifications re- 
quired, the training methods and the minimum load on a switchboard 
which should be managed by the candidate. An indication was also 
given as to what form the proficiency certificate should take. It was 
further announced that a manual would be compiled which would 
serve as a guide for training purposes. 

New placement officer 

After Mr Kocks' departure on 15 August 1958, Mr J. J. H. Muller was 
appointed as placement officer. He assumed office on 1 October 1958 
and held the post until 6 March 1961. 

A matter which received a great deal of attention from the Employ- 
ment Committee was the establishment of regional committees in 
centres where there were societies for the blind. Such regional commit- 
tees would then work in close co-operation with the head committee in 
Pretoria. 

In this connection Council passed the following resolution at its 
meeting held in October 1956: 

"That in order to stimulate and co-ordinate the placement of the 
blind in the open labour market the Employment Committee is 
instructed to assist in the formation of local employment com- 
mittees in places where blind welfare organizations are estab- 
lished.">3 

The first regional committee was established in Cape Town, prob- 
ably on 12 June 1958. It proved to be very active. 

At a meeting of the Cape Town Committee (named the Local Em- 
ployment Committee) held on 8 July 1958 the following officers were 
elected : 

Chairman: Dr L. van Schalkwijk 

Deputy Chairman: Mr G. Schermbrucker 

Secretary: Miss A. F. Gillies 
The Cape Town Committee resolved to appoint a Survey and Place- 
ment Committee which would function as a sub-committee of the local 
employment committee. This Sub-committee, which was probably in 
charge of actual placements, consisted of eight persons and had its own 



158 



Chairman. Mr Schermbrucker was nominated as convener of the first 
meeting of the sub-committee, and it can be assumed that he was also 
elected as Chairman, for all correspondence with the head committee 
in Pretoria was conducted by him. Also the reports on the activities of 
the regional committee were sent by him. 

This Committee did excellent work, to judge by the number of 
placements made and general follow-up work which was done.'* 

A similar regional committee was established in Pretoria by the local 
Society for the Blind, which also did good work, and which co-oper- 
ated closely with the head committee. In Johannesburg a placement 
committee was established, but it was administered by the Johannes- 
burg Society to Help Civilian Blind, and functioned separately from 
the Committee for Rehabilitation, Training and Employment. Efforts 
to establish regional committees in Durban and Port Elizabeth failed. 

At the 14th biennial meeting of the National Council, held on 15-17 
October 1958, it was resolved to establish a Division for Employment 
and Rehabilitation. This replaced the Employment Committee. With 
regard to this it can be mentioned that the word ''training" was left out 
of the name of the Division, probably because no progress had been 
made with the training centre and the project had been abandoned. 

It is clear from the minutes and reports of the Division for Rehabili- 
tation and Employment that its chief function was placement, whatever 
other objectives it might have had in view. In this respect the Division 
was very active. The case of each person was thoroughly investigated 
before he was placed, and after placement the necessary follow-up 
work was done. At meetings of the Division reports were submitted 
concerning each person individually, and if his circumstances justified 
it, his case was fully discussed. 

At that time the majority of blind persons in open labour were em- 
ployed as telephonists, but much attention was also devoted to possi- 
bilities of placement in industry. In this connection the Employment 
Officer, together with the Chairman, made an extensive survey of ave- 
nues of employment which appeared to be suitable for the blind in fac- 
tories in the large centres of our country. 

The Division also paid attention to obtaining suitable posts for 
physiotherapists where it was deemed necessary. Actually, as has al- 
ready been mentioned, the Division was deeply involved in various as- 
pects of the training of physiotherapists at the London School of 
Physiotherapy. This concerned matters such as screening, problems 



159 



with the financing of their studies, correspondence with the London 
School about problems of a personal nature, and other similar cir- 
cumstances. Physiotherapy as a profession for blind people has a long 
and interesting history, since blind physiotherapists had already 
started to practise in our country in the early twenties. This was the 
only form of employment for which overseas training was required. It 
is still the case today, although efforts have often been made to start a 
training centre in this country, but this has proved to be an impractica- 
ble proposition. 

During this period a beginning'was also made to pay serious atten- 
tion to the placement of blind Black men. In this respect the Division 
depended largely on the co-operation of the Transvaal Society for 
Non- European Blind. A person who performed excellent service in 
this connection was Mrs G. Gowie, the wife of the then Manager of the 
Society. She was co-opted on to the Division. That the Division re- 
garded the matter in a serious light is borne out by the fact that a resol- 
ution had been passed which stipulated that the new candidate for the 
post of Placement Officer should also attend to the placement of blind 
non-white persons. 

The Division was also made responsible for control over the newly 
established Rehabilitation Centre. There was indeed a centre commit- 
tee as well as a house committee, but the admission of candidates to 
the centre, the progress of rehabilitees, their discharge and eventual 
placement rested with the Division. Because rehabilitation was such an 
important facet of services to the blind, a separate report on the centre 
will follow later on. Rehabilitation is a unique aspect of the objectives 
of the Council, and the centre played an increasingly important role in 
the lives of many blind persons throughout the years. From a small be- 
ginning in an ordinary dwelling house with one part-time rehabilita- 
tion officer it has grown to an organization accommodated in suitable 
premises with a professional personnel of eight. 

If one considers the activities of the Division one realises that the 
S.A. National Council for the Blind was by no means a mere co-ordi- 
nating body. This was often a source of concern to the more conserva- 
tive members of Council and the Executive Committee. Their argu- 
ment was that the National Council could not deal with individuals, 
since it was the duty of the affiliated bodies to care for the individual 
blind person. It became very clear, however, that by maintaining such 
a policy throughout, an effiicient service could not be supplied to our 



160 



blind community. It could be argued that our societies for the blind 
should amongst their other duties be responsible for promoting em- 
ployment in open labour; but it was generally felt that this was asking 
too much of them, since it was such a specialised field. Therefore the 
National Council wisely resolved that all forms of service of a national 
character should be managed by the Council itself by means of its 
standing committees and sub-committees. This also applied to its re- 
habilitation services. One cannot really expect that each society for the 
blind should establish such a centre, although rehabilitation should be 
included in its programme. 

Then there is still the service to blind persons who are geographi- 
cally or otherwise out of reach of a society or organization for the 
blind. 

A pertinent example of this was the case of a newly blinded person 
of nineteen years of age residing at Lichtenburg, who was brought to 
the attention of the Chairman of the Division for Rehabilitation and 
Placement.'^ The Placement Officer visited her when she was in the Jo- 
hannesburg General Hospital and handed her the forms for admission 
to the Rehabilitation Centre. She had a younger sister who also needed 
rehabilitation. Because some time had elapsed without any reaction 
from them, the Chairman asked permission to incur the expenditure 
that would enable him and the Employment Officer to visit the parents 
at Lichtenburg. 

When the matter was discussed a member of the Division opposed 
the request "as the Division had no authority to recruit such cases for 
admission to the Rehabilitation Centre". After the matter had been 
fully discussed, it was resolved that the Chairman and the Placement 
Officer be allowed to proceed to Lichtenburg. It was further decided 
to recommend to the Executive Committee that cases should be inves- 
tigated at places where no affiliated society or organization for the 
blind existed. The recommendation was approved by the Executive 
Committee.*^ This was a clear indicadon that there was a distinct depar- 
ture from the narrow interpretation of the Council's policy of being 
merely a co-ordinating body. 

In the fourteenth biennial report of Council (1956-1958), the Chair- 
man, Dr Louis van Schalkwijk, gave a survey of the expansion of the 
National Council's field of activities, and made pertinent references to 
the co-ordinating aspect. After a summary of the original objectives of 
Council which were in force at its foundadon, he continued thus : 



161 



"Since then, and more particularly during the last decade or 
more, the Council has been obliged to undertake services which 
bring it directly into contact with the blind, or to put it differ- 
ently, to launch projects which directly serve the blind, such as (to 
mention a few) projects which serve to prevent blindness, includ- 
ing arrangements for corneal grafting, machinery for placing 
suitable blind persons in ordinary employment, domiciliary fa- 
cilities for rehabilitating the blind, more particulary the newly 
blinded, and organisational arrangements for importing and sell- 
ing suitable equipment and articles for the blind. These tasks have 
been undertaken in terms of the Council's constitution which em- 
powers it to initiate projects under two specified circumstances: 
When the projects are of too major a nature to be undertaken by 
individual societies and serve a Union-wide need, and secondly, 
when a local organization has not the financial resources or is for 
other reasons unable or unwilling to provide the service." 

This inevitable expansion of the Council's activities was approved as 
a matter of course by most members of Council. However, when a 
movement was started later to expand this function of individual ser- 
vice by Council in such a way that it could take the form of an Institute, 
voices were raised, protesting that such a step would affect the auto- 
nomy of the various affiliated organizations. More about this will be 
reported at a later stage, seeing that there were also resolutions to 
amend the constitution effectively. 

We now end this report on the activities of the Division until the end 
of the period under review (1961). This also saw the resignation of the 
Employment Officer. Later, when the following period of the Coun- 
cil's history is dealt with, the Division will begin with a new Employ- 
ment Officer who would in various ways introduce a new phase of acti- 
vities of the Division. 

Committee for Braille, Education and Research 

The Committee for Braille, Education and Research developed from 
the original "Braille Committee for Bantu Languages" which was es- 
tablished at the biennial meeting of the S.A. National Council for the 
Blind held in October 1950 at Kimberley.^' This Committee concerned 
itself exclusively with devising braille systems for the five main Black 
languages, viz. Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Northern Sotho and Southern 



162 



Sotho. After most of the technical work in this connection had been 
completed, it was felt that the Committee should receive a much 
broader assignment so as to include matters relating to the braille sys- 
tems of the official languages as well as research in connection there- 
with. Thus we find that at a meeting of the Council held 16 to 18 
October 1956 the Committee for Braille, Education and Research was 
formed with the following as its first members:^* 
Mr W. Cohen (Chairman) 

Mr A. W. B. Marlow j v ^ ! 

Mr Joh. C. Pauw : 

Mr E. J. J. Kruger . 

Mrs M. Kruger i 

Mr J. H. van Niekerk 

Mr V. H. Vaughan 
The first meeting of the Committee was held on 28 October 1957. 
Already at this meeting it was announced that the braille system for Se- 
pedi-Tswana and South-Sotho had been finalised and were being 
tested for possible adaptations and alterations by the respective 
schools. Since the schools for blind Blacks were under the auspices of 
the Department of Education, Arts and Science at that time, the De- 
partment was notified of the developments. At a latter stage a consoli- 
dated report on the braille systems in the five most important Black 
languages, namely Zulu, Xhosa, Sepedi, Tswana and South-Sotho, was 
forwarded to the Department with the recommendation that the sys- 
tems be officially approved for use in schools for blind Blacks. 
Furthermore, the Committee was of the opinion that, in order to make 
the testing of the systems more efficient, it was essential that some 
books in the braille systems of the languages be transcribed. Mr E.J.J. 
Kruger of the Transcription Bureau of the S.A. Blind Workers' Orga- 
nization (later Braille Services) offered to transcribe two books in each 
of the five Black languages at the approximate cost of £50 (RlOO). It 
was resolved to recommend to the Executive Committee that Mr Krug- 
er' s offer be accepted. 

The question of the establishment of a second Braille printing 
press^^ was broached. The minutes state that three memoranda on the 
matter were submitted, namely from Dr W. Cohen, Mr Joh. C. Pauw 
(Worcester) and Mr E.J.J. Kruger (Transcription Services) respectively. The 
matter was fully discussed and it was resolved that a conference be con- 
vened by the National Council, consisting of delegates from the vari- 



163 



ous schools for the bUnd, interested State departments, the S.A. Lib- 
rary for the BHnd, the S.A. Blind Workers' Organization and two or 
three regular braille readers to "discuss the availability and production 
of braille literature". 

The conference was held on 18 March 1958 in Cape Town. Accord- 
ing to the report which was submitted to the Executive Committee^^ the 
conference was attended by thirty representatives of various organiza- 
tions. The reason for this large number of interested persons must be 
attributed to the fact that the conference was held on the day before the 
beginning of the 74th meeting of the Executive Committee of Council. 
Apart from the representatives of the National Council and the Com- 
mittee for Braille, Education and Research, there were representatives 
from five schools for the blind, two Education Departments, the S.A. 
Library for the Blind, the S.A. Blind Workers Organization, the Jo- 
hannesburg Society to Help Civilian Blind, the Lighthouse Club for 
the Blind and the Worcester Braille Printing Press. At least ten braille 
readers were present. It was thus a very representative group of per- 
sons who were involved in all facets of the use and production of 
braille. On account of indisposition the Chairman of Council, Dr 
Louis van Schalkwijk, could not attend the Conference. In his absence 
Dr W. Cohen was unanimously voted to the Chair. 

The following were the most important matters which arose from 
the discussions: 

( 1 ) The question was raised of making books which are read by only a 
very small group of persons available by the Library for the Blind. 
The representative of the Library explained that no provision for 
such persons could be made. Attention was also drawn to the 
necessity of building up a reference department as well as a stu- 
dents' section at the Library. In order to bring this about more vo- 
luntary transcribers would be needed. 

(2) Reference was also made to the "lamentable shortage of Afrikaans 
books in Braille". The S.A. Library for the Blind had only 197 titles 
at its disposal. Mr Johan Pauw informed the conference that the 
Worcester School for the Blind had approximately 500 Afrikaans 
titles on its shelves but the school "was not prepared to take over 
the functions of the lending library". In connection with this Mr 
Kruger of the Transcription Bureau of the S.A.B.W.O. stated that 
this organization would be willing to transcribe Afrikaans books 
into braille, and then to place them at the disposal of the Library 



164 



for the Blind, provided that the necessary funds were forthcoming. 

(3) The Chairman informed the conference that the braille systems for 
Zulu/Xhosa, Sepedi/Tswana and Southern Sotho had been com- 
pleted. It was pointed out, however, that as in the case of all braille 
systems, these systems would also have to undergo an evolutionary 
period. It was generally felt that the printing of braille books in 
Black languages should at first be confined to school books until 
such time as the systems had been put to the test and adaptations 
had been made. 

(4) In connection with the chief reason for convening the conference, 
namely the question of whether a second braille printing press 
should be established, the report states as follows: "The conference 
is unanimous that an additional braille printing press is not neces- 
sary at this stage, considering that the Worcester School for the 
Blind is prepared to consider the printing of all books in braille 
when the demand for a large number of copies exists." It would 
also mean books for Black schools, according to Mr J. van Eeden 
of the Worcester Braille Printing Press. 

The problem thus once more arose as to what procedure should be 
followed in the case of books when the circulation was very small. 
The conference was of the opinion that the Transcription Bureau 
of the S.A.B.W.O. should be expanded in order to supply books in 
braille for lending by the S.A. Library for the Blind. This was fol- 
lowed by a resolution to the effect that an application should be 
made to the Department of Education, Arts and Science for the 
subsidisation of the Transcription Bureau with a view to expansion 
of the service. 

(5) Several matters of a general nature were discussed at the confer- 
ence, such as the possibiHty of printing "solid-dot" braille, the 
best method for the packaging of braille books, the development 
of tape in the place of the talking book, investigation into the 
various kinds of braille writing machines and apparatus, the ac- 
quisition of parts for these machines, and the distribution of in- 
formation among the blind by printing the newsletter of the 
National Council in braille. 

The Executive Committee approved all the recommendations made 
at the conference and it was left to the Committee for Braille, Educa- 
tion and Research to put the resolutions into effect. 

The conference must be regarded as an important milestone in the 



165 



history of the provision of braille literature. It was felt that the produc- 
tion of braille, especially for adults, including the university student, 
was inadequate. This was also true of braille books in Afrikaans. 

At the meeting of the Committee for Braille, Education and Re- 
search which followed the conference, attention was given to the vari- 
ous matters which had been raised. In this connection the first priority 
seems to have been the recruiting of transcribers especially for the 
transcription of Afrikaans books into braille. As regards the transcrib- 
ers of English, the Library had the services of quite a number of ef- 
ficient braillists, but the intention was to increase the number. 

In spite of serious efforts to obtain Afrikaans transcribers the cam- 
paign was unsuccesful. The stumbling block appears to have been the 
learning of braille without proper tuition. In this connection it should 
be mentioned that both the Transcription Bureau and the Library in- 
sisted on a high standard of braille. This could only be achieved by 
conducting efficiency tests both in English and Afrikaans. 

Initially it was resolved that English braillists should pass the ef- 
ficiency test of the Royal National Institute for the Blind before they 
could proceed with transcription work. The S.A. Blind Workers Orga- 
nization made the services of an experienced braillist available for con- 
ducting the efficiency test in Afrikaans braille. 

When the R.N. LB. later notified the National Council that they were 
not prepared to conduct the transcribers' tests any longer, the Com- 
mittee for Braille, Education and Research resolved that the time had 
come to conduct the tests themselves. The Committee was convinced 
that expert braillists could be found in our country to act as examiners 
and moderators, who would uphold the required standards. 

At a meeting of the Committee held on 30 May 1959 it was resolved 
that the Committee constitute itself as an Examination Board and initi- 
ate a transcribers' examination. 

Subject to the approval of the Executive Committee, or if need be 
the National Council itself, the following examiners and moderators 
were appointed: 

Mr J. P. van Eeden — Chief examiner 

Miss C. E. Aucamp — Co-examiner 

Miss M. Watson — Moderator for English 

Mr V. H. Vaughan — Moderator for Afrikaans. 

It was also resolved that the Examination Board would appoint ad- 
ditional examiners for braille in the various languages of the Black 



166 



people should the need arise. It was further resolved that when the 
Examination Board had been ofFicially constituted, certificates would 
be issued to successful candidates by the National Council. 

This step must be considered as one of the main achievements of the 
Committee's work. The high standard of braille which is found in our 
books today must be attributed to the introduction of the efficiency 
tests. The two examiners, acknowledged experts in the field, are today 
still the same persons as twenty years ago and this continuity has in it- 
self contributed to the fact that braille of the highest standard only is 
produced in South Africa. The original two moderators have been re- 
placed by Mr J. R. Solms, also recognised as a leading braille expert in 
this country. 

The Committee for Braille, Education and Research also decided to 
promote proficiency and general interest in braille reading. It there- 
fore resolved to organise a national braille reading competition. A 
sub-committee with Mr E. J. J. Kruger as Chairman was appointed to 
organise the competition. According to the rules the competitors 
would be divided into different categories, namely two for scholars 
and an open section. As regards language, the rules made provision for 
English, Afrikaans and bilingual reading. Regional competitions 
would be held beforehand and the winners would then compete on a 
national basis. 

Because adjudicators were appointed from the general public, 
among whom was the then Director of the S.A. Broadcasting Corpora- 
tion, Mr Gideon Roos, the competition aroused widespread interest, 
and it was even arranged that some of the prizewinners would be heard 
over the national network of the radio in a topical broadcast. In con- 
nection with the reading competition the Chairman of the National 
Council, Dr Louis van Schalkwijk, writes as follows in the 15th bien- 
nial report of Council (1958-1960): 

"The competitions were open to adults of all races and to all 
schools, and proved to be popular and received substantial pub- 
licity. Attractive prizes were given, and in addition there were 
floating trophies, whilst all competitors received appropriate cer- 
tificates . . . There were regional and final competitions, and 
quite candidly, speaking as an adjudicator and an ex-Inspector of 
Schools for the Blind, I was surprised at the excellent perfor- 
mance of the finalists. Poems by Byron and Theo Wassenaar were 
read unseen with the same fluency as one would expect from a 



167 



practised sighted reader. I should add that adjudicators included 
V.I.P.s such as Mrs Fagan, wife of the ex- Chief Justice, and Mr 
Gideon Roos of broadcasting fame." 
This competition was repeated a few times at intervals of approxi- 
mately two years, but was discontinued later as a result of the vast or- 
ganization which it entailed. Today braille competitions are still held 
by schools and other bodies, and certainly serve a good purpose, but 
they are not held on a national basis. 

Since so many matters of a purely technical nature had been laid be- 
fore the Committee for discussion it was resolved to recommend to the 
Executive Committee that a General Braille Committee should be es- 
tablished. This was approved and the terms of reference were drawn 
up. The Committee would occupy itself initially with the finalising of 
the braille systems for Black languages and would then give attention 
to matters pertaining to braille in the two official languages. As indi- 
cated in the terms of reference, contact would be continued with inter- 
national organizations, such as the World Braille Council. The Com- 
mittee would keep itself informed about developments, especially with 
regard to mathematics and science. 

The Department of Education, Arts and Science was notified of the 
establishment of the General Braille Committee, and the Department 
declared itself prepared to send a representative to meetings. 

The first meeting of the General Braille Committee was held on 12 
December 1959. 

The work of the part-time Transcription Bureau of the S.A. Blind 
Workers' Organization increased to such an extent that the question of 
establishing a full-time service was raised. It had to be decided whether 
the S.A.B.W.O. should undertake the project in partnership with the 
National Council, or proceed on its own, but with financial support 
from Council. After much deliberation it was resolved at a meeting of 
the Executive Committee of the S.A.B.W.O., which took place on 4 
July 1961, that a fully equipped Braille Transcription Bureau be estab- 
lished, which would be known as Braille Services. 

It was also decided that the new organization would be controlled 
by a committee consisting of seven members: four from the 
S.A.B.W.O. and three from the National Council. Further decisions 
were taken regarding the appointment of personnel, the procuring of 
equipment and methods to finance the project. The latter would in- 
clude representations to the Department of Education, Arts and Sci- 



168 



ence for a subsidy and a request to the National Council for a grant of 
R2 000. An appeal would be made for donations. The Management 
Committee and the Honorary Director (Mr E. J. J. Kruger) immedi- 
ately began to look for accommodation. 

As early as the next meeting of the Committee for Braille, Education 
and Research, held on 24 October 1961, the Honorary Director of 
Braille Services could report that three offices in the Grand National 
Building, Rissik Street, Johannesburg, had been procured, that a large 
donation of office equipment had been received, that Crab machines 
for the writing and duplicating of braille had been ordered from Eng- 
land, and that a full-time braillist, namely Miss A. van der Spuy, had 
been appointed. She would assume duty on 2 January 1962. Other es- 
sential personnel would be appointed later. 

At the following meeting of the Executive Committee of Council 
held on 24 to 26 October 1961, Dr Cohen, Chairman of the Commit- 
tee for Braille, Education and Research, reported fully on the estab- 
lishment of Braille Services. He announced that work would be under- 
taken for schools, individuals, the National Council and the South 
African Library for the Blind. The Council's magazine would also be 
printed in braille by Braille Services. Thereafter the following resol- 
ution was adopted: 

"that the Council guarantees a grant not exceeding R2 000 per 
year to Braille Services, subject to reconsideration by the Execu- 
tive Committee in October 1962." 
In this way Braille Services came into being. The organisation played 
an important role in the provision of braille-literature to the adult 
blind of the country. Its further development will receive attention 
when the establishment and activities of the S.A.B.W.O. are dealt with. 

We have now arrived at the end of the period under discussion. In 
the next chapter the rest of the history of the Committee for Braille, 
Education and Research will be told. 

Committee for Blind Blacks 

Soon after the founding of the National Council, the situation with re- 
gard to the blind Black community received the serious attention of 
Council. When, for example, the blind Persons Act of 1936 was not ap- 
plicable to blind Blacks, and they could not be considered for pension 
benefits, the National Council immediately made representations to 
the then Department of Native Affairs for financial assistance. These 



169 



efforts were successful and a considerable sum of money was allocated 
annually for assistance to blind Blacks by the abovementioned Depart- 
ment. This continued until 1944 when pensions were paid out to them 
in terms of an amendment to the Pensions Act. Later, in 1962, when 
amendments to the Blind Persons Act were made, pensions were paid 
out to them in terms of the latter Act. 

Assistance was also given to blind Blacks in other fields, such as in 
connection with the prevention of blindness and the provision of edu- 
cation. It is true that there were no separate schools available at that 
time, but Black scholars were allowed to enrol at the Athlone School 
for the Blind, Cape Town. In 1937 further action was taken on their 
behalf when the Transvaal Society for Non- European Blind, was estab- 
lished. In 1936, a society with similar aims was founded in Natal. 
It can be stated that various existing societies for the blind also at- 
tended to the needs of the blind Blacks in their areas, and admitted 
them to their workshops. 

As regards the National Council itself, we find that the first real ef- 
fort to act in the interests of blind Blacks was a resolution adopted at 
the ninth biennial meeting of Council, held on 9 to 1 1 November 1948 
in East London. The resolution was submitted by the Chairman of 
Council, Rev. A. W. Blaxall, on behalf of the Transvaal Society for 
Non- European Blind. 
It read as follows: 

"That in the opinion of the Council the time has come to work 
out a comprehensive programme for the development of blind 
welfare work among Africans in the four provinces. That African 
personnel should be trained by a staff of trained welfare work- 
ers. 

This matter was followed up by the Executive Committee. A com- 
mittee was appointed with the Rev. A. W. Blaxall as Chairman. The 
name of the committee was: "Committee on the Development of Edu- 
cation and Blind Welfare Among Africans". 

The Committee submitted regular reports on its activities to the 
Executive Committee. These mostly concerned efforts which were 
made to establish schools for blind Black children. Mention was also 
made of problems experienced with the tracing and care of blind 
adults. No fixed programme of action came into existence. 

At the 1 1th biennial meeting of the Council held on 24 and 25 Sep- 
tember 1952 it was resolved to change the name of the committee to: 



170 



Committee for Bantu Blind. The following were appointed as mem- 
bers: Rev. A. W. Blaxall (Chairman), Mr W. Cohen, Mrs M. Marks 
(Port Elizabeth), Dr L. van Schalkwijk, Mrs H. Wiley (Bloemfontein), 
Mrs F. M. Blaxall, Mrs V. K. Fleming (King William's Town), Mr A. B. 
W. Marlow, Mr V. H. Vaughan. 

The Committee's first report was presented to the Executive Com- 
mittee at its meeting held in March 1953. The following are a few of 
the most important matters emanating therefrom: 

It was announced that a grant was made available by the National 
Council to a teacher employed in an ordinary school for Blacks, to 
undergo training at the Athlone School for the Blind. The training 
would take place with the object of establishing schools for blind 
Blacks. There were already movements afoot for establishing schools 
for blind Blacks in the near future in specifically zoned areas such as 
the northern and eastern parts of the country — hence the necessity for 
the timely training of teachers to provide personnel for the schools. 

According to later reports by the Chairman of die Committee^^ it ap- 
peared that a large number of applications had been received from 
which two candidates were chosen. It was resolved that it would be 
better to train two persons for six months each, instead of one for a full 
year. The first candidate started the course in January 1954 and the 
second in July 1954. Both finished the course successfully and returned 
temporarily to their schools to wait for appointments when the schools 
could be established. 

A second important announcement concerned the establishment of 
a department for deaf-bhnd at the Kutlwanong School for the Deaf at 
Ezenzeleni. The project was a combined effort by the two institutions, 
namely the School and the Society. At that stage there were five deaf- 
blind persons under the age of 2 1 years and three above 2 1 years. All of 
them were educable or trainable. The Committee recommended to the 
National Council to grant financial assistance to the project, seeing 
that the teacher (at that time Mrs F. W. Blaxall) did not receive a salary 
from the Government. There were negotiations, however, with the De- 
partment of Education, Arts and Science with regard to the matter. Fi- 
nancial aid was also needed for the salaries of two assistants. 

The question of the establishment of a workshop for Black women 
at King William's Town was raised. According to information received 
from the local Society, correspondence regarding subsidisation had al- 
ready taken place with the Departments concerned. The Committee 



171 



undertook to arrange an interview with the authorities with a view to 
speeding up the matter. 

Regarding the estabHshment and subsidisation of schools for blind 
Blacks, it was reported to the Executive that a committee had been ap- 
pointed by the Department of Education, Arts and Science (the Grob- 
belaar Committee) to investigate the future of education for blind 
Blacks, which would include the establishment of schools. 

At each subsequent meeting of the Committee for Blind Blacks the 
matter was broached, but each time the outcome was disappointing, 
namely that the report had not yet been released. At the biennial meet- 
ing of Council held in October 1956, however, Dr C. M. van Antwerp, 
representative of the Department of Education, Arts and Science, made 
an important announcement in connection with the matter. He ex- 
plained that although the report of the Interdepartmental Committee 
was not yet available, some of its recommendations had already been 
implemented by the Department. Two schools for blind Black children 
had been approved, namely the St Bernard School for the Blind^* at 
Chuniespoort, and the School for the Blind at Klipspruit^^ in the Nor- 
thern Transvaal. Both schools were under the auspices of church bo- 
dies. 

Furthermore Dr Van Antwerp informed the meeting "that his De- 
partment had received two further applications from the N.G. Church 
for the establishment of schools for blind Black children, one at Um- 
tata in Transkei, and the other in the Orange Free State and that the 
Minister had these two applications under consideration". 

On a proposal by Mr N. Cleverley that the Department be requested 
to establish a school for blind Blacks in Natal, Dr Van Antwerp replied 
that the N.G. Church had already approached the Department with 
the object of establishing a school there. 

At a meeting of Council in October 1956 the name of the Committee 
for Bantu Blind was changed to the Committee for Non- European 
Blind. This step would allow the interests of the Coloured and Indian 
groups to be served by the Committee. Mr N. Cleverley of the Natal 
Bantu Blind Society was elected to the Chair. 

In the report of the Committee which was submitted to the Execu- 
tive Committee meeting held in March 1957, the most important mat- 
ter which was raised by the Chairman (Mr Cleverley) was the question 
of the wrong siting of certain workshops for Non- European blind per- 
sons according to the Group Areas Act. The moving of the workshops 



172 



would be costly. Also, there would be problems finding suitable pre- 
mises in other areas. Several deputations were appointed by Council to 
interview the Departments concerned in order to discuss the matter. 

This question, which held the attention of the Societies and the 
Committee for Non- European Blind for a number of years, was finally 
resolved as a result of the accommodating spirit of the State depart- 
ments concerned, and the assistance, financial and otherwise, of the 
National Council. 

The Committee for Non- European Blind also concerned itself with 
the type of vocational training which was offered in the schools for 
blind Blacks, so as to bring it in line with the trades plied in sheltered 
workshops. This matter was of such importance that on the recom- 
mendation of the Committee, Council decided to convene a confer- 
ence to discuss the matter. The Department of Native Affairs, the De- 
partment of Bantu Education, and the Department of Education, Arts 
and Science would be invited, as well as the three existing schools for 
blind Blacks and the Athlone School for the Blind. 

In the minutes and records of the Committee reference was often 
made to the so-called Shamba scheme, which was launched in Uganda 
by the "Uganda Foundation for the Blind", at the Salama Centre in 
Uganda. This was an agricultural project where blind people were oc- 
cupied with farming on plots under supervision of a central organiza- 
tion. Full information was obtained and submitted to the Department 
of Native Affairs, with a view to the possible introduction of the project 
into our Black territories. 

The Department itself also made investigations, and fully explained 
in a letter to the Committee why it considered that such a scheme could 
not be carried out successfully in South Africa. The letter concluded 
with a statement about the manner in which the Department intended 
approaching the question of employment for blind Blacks: 

"The Department is not indifferent to the plight of blind Bantu 
persons but it intends to seek a solution of the problem in the de- 
velopment of home industries, sheltered employment projects, 
workshops and the like in Native areas and is investigating the 
possibilities in this direction. When the Department is in a pos- 
ition to commence the development of such schemes in Native 
areas it will welcome advice from your Council on the technical 
and professional aspects of the schemes. "^^ 
To follow this up, the Department of Bantu Administration and De- 



173 



velopment appointed an Interdepartmental Committee to investigate 
the vocational training in schools for blind Blacks. The National 
Council was invited to serve on the Committee, and the Department 
suggested that a Bantu Affairs Committee be appointed by the Coun- 
cil, with whom the Department could collaborate in all matters con- 
cerning blind Blacks. In the light of this the Committee for Non-Euro- 
pean Blind recommended that a sub-committee for Bantu Affairs be 
appointed. The resolution of the Executive Committee reads as fol- 
lows 

"That the appointment of a Bantu Affairs Sub- Committee as an 
interim measure pending the appointment of a Standing Com- 
mittee by the National Council to deal with Bantu Affairs only, as 
distinct from the affairs of other Non- European groups, be and is 
hereby confirmed and approved." 
For approximately a year the Bantu Affairs Sub- Committee existed 
alongside the Committee for Non- European Blind, and met separ- 
ately. It had to report to the Committee for Non-European Blind. At 
the biennial meeting of Council held in October 1960, the Committee 
for Non- European Blind was abolished and replaced by the Commit- 
tee for Bantu Affairs. Matters concerning the Coloured and Indian 
groups would henceforth be dealt with together with the other activi- 
ties of Council. This was the position up to the year 1966 when the two 
Divisions were established, one for Coloured Affairs, and the other for 
Indian Affairs. 

Here we close the history of the Committee for Native Affairs for the 
time being, as we have come to the end of the era being discussed (1949 
to 1961). The Committee was destined to play a very important part in 
the development of services for blind Blacks. This will receive attention 
later on. The political changes which took place during the ensuing de- 
cade would, as a matter of course, have an influence on the approach 
of the National Council to its provision of services to the blind Black 
population. The methods which it applied and the problems which it 
experienced will receive the necessary attention in a following chapter. 



174 



Since the estabhshment of the committees the names of quite a number of them have been 
changed. The names by which they are known today are given here. 

This committee was divided into two in 1976, one committee for rehabihtation and the other 
for placement. 

This committee is regarded as an interim committee until a Division for Blind Blacks has been 
established. 

The speech by Mr Kuschke has not been preserved. There was a brief summary in the minutes. 
There is no mention of this in the minutes, possibly because it was considered of little conse- 
quence. Because there was no discussion, no resulotion was adopted. The present writer was the 
Chairman of the sub-committee at the time, and presented the case. 
The memorandum is dated 24 March 1954. 

The post remained unsubsidised until 1978. In the minutes of the Executive Committee meet- 
mg held in May 1978, it is reported that the post will henceforth be subsidised under certain 
conditions. 

Minutes of the Executive Committee meeting held on 3 March 1955. 
Minutes of the Executive Committee meeting held on 3 March 1955. 

The present writer was present at the meeting of the Executive Committee and vividly remem- 
bers the strong differences of opinion which prevailed. 

The word "employment" was sometimes alternated with "placement". In the same way die offi- 
cer was sometimes referred to as the employment officer, and at other times as the placement 
officer. 

Report of the Rehabilitation, Training and Placement Committee from April 1957 to October 
1957. Annexure E to the minutes of the 73rd meeting of the Executive Committee held 29-31 
October 1957. 

Minutes of Council meeting held 16-18 October 1956. 

Minutes of meeting of Division for Employment and Rehabilitation 30 January 1960 page 7 
Mmutes of meeting of Division held 12 March 1960, page 3. 

The Chairman of the Division made an announcement about this at a meeting of the Division 
held on 23 April 1960. Minutes of the meeting, page 3. 

Minutes of the 10th meeting of the National Council, October 1950, page 10 

Mmutes of the 11th Council meeting, page 18. ' 

The first braille press was that of the Worcester School for the Blind. 

Minutes Executive Committee of 19-21 March 1958. 

Minutes of meeting of B.E.R. Committee held 1 August 1959, page 6. 

The Siloe School for the Blind (Blacks) near Pietersburg started in 1951 with one pupil Re- 
commendations regarding the establishment of schools for Black children appear in the "Re- 
1^952) Committee on Deviate Children - Volume 2, page 154 (published in 

From the minutes of the meeting of the Executive Committee 1-2 October 1953, page 18 
Now the Siloe School for the Blind. 
Now the Bosele School for the Blind. 

No record of this conference is available. It is doubtful whether it was ever held. 
Chairman's report for Committee for Non- European Blind attached to minutes of Executive 
Committee Meeting held March 1958. 

Minutes of meeting of Executive Committee held October 1959, page 21. 



175 



CHAPTER 8 



ANEW ORGANIZATION PATTERN - II 

1949 to 1961 



In the preceding chapter the estabHshment and activities of the special 
committees were dealt with, which showed how effectively this new or- 
ganisational system could be utilised to further the aims of the 
National Council. This specialistic approach also made the provision 
of services to the blind of all population groups more purposeful. In 
this regard two more standing committees should receive attention, 
namely the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness and the Public Re- 
lations Committee. The latter held its first meeting in 1960, and there- 
fore belongs to the next period. Consequently it will be dealt with in a 
later chapter. The Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness Committee 
deserves more comprehensive treatment on account of its importance 
and widespread activities. 

Although the most important aspect of this period was the estab- 
lishment of the specialist committees, there were also various other 
matters which demanded the attention of Council. They included, 
inter alia, amendments to existing legislation, planning of national 
projects, assistance and advice to affiliated bodies, personnel matters, 
publicity, formulation of policy, and closer liaison with government 
departments. 

Before proceeding with these matters, it is necessary first to recount 
what the position was concerning the officers of Council. 

After his election as Chairman in 1948 as successor to Advocate 
Bowen, the Rev. A. W. Blaxall served for two terms only. In 1952 he 
was succeeded by Dr Louis van Schalkwijk.* 

It was known at that time that Mr Blaxall had avoided the chairman- 
ship as far back as the foundation of the Council. The reason for this 
was the fact that he was also the Chairman of the S.A. National Coun- 
cil for the Deaf. The chairmanship of both National Councils simul- 
taneously would have burdened him with too many commitments, the 



176 



Dr Walter Cohen, member of the Executive Mr F. A. Peters, Treasurer of Council since 
Committee and Chairman of the S,A. National 1960. 
Council for the Blind from 1960 to 1962. 




Mr William Rowland, Director of the S.A. Na- 
tional Council for the Blind. 



177 



more so because he was also involved with quite a number of other or- 
ganizations, mostly connected with the Church. He thus remained firm 
in his decision in refusing renomination. Nevertheless it was a matter 
of grave concern for him to have the right person elected, since consi- 
derable developments, which would demand insight and good judge- 
ment on the part of the Chairman, were held in prospect. 

At that time Dr Louis van Schalkwijk had already left the service of 
the State. During the last six years he was abroad most of the time as 
South Africa's representative on the Council for Social Services of the 
United Nations Organization (U.N.O.). For that reason he had no con- 
tact with the National Council for several years. After his retirement he 
settled in Cape Town. 

Mr Blaxall was aware of Dr van Schalkwijk's circumstances and was 
convinced that he would be the right person to occupy the Chair. The 
manner of his election was told by Blaxall himself in an article on Dr 
Van Schalkwijk in Imfama, as follows:^ 

"During the 1952 meeting of the National Council, held at Gra- 
hamstown, when I found it necessary to be firm in refusing re- 
nomination as Chairman (I was at the time also Chairman of the 
Deaf Council), I immediately thought of Dr Van Schalkwijk for 
the honour. I knew he had just retired from public service so I 
suggested that if the Council acted quickly they might secure him. 
The election was postponed until the next day and I was asked to 
try and contact him, which I did by telegram and telephone. The 
following day I was able to announce his acceptance." 
Thus we can report here that Louis Marthinus Albertus Nicholas 
van Schalkwijk was elected third Chairman of the S.A. National Coun- 
cil for the Blind on 25 September 1952, a position which he occupied 
until his death in August 1961. 

At the same meeting Mrs Mildred Marks was elected First Vice- 
Chairman and Mr A. B. W. Marlow Second Vice- Chairman. Mrs 
Marks was Chairman of the Port Elizabeth Society for the Blind and 
Mr Marlow the Principal of the Athlone School for the Blind. 

Mr D. N. Murray was unanimously elected treasurer. He had occu- 
pied this office since 1946, when he succeeded Mr H. A. Tothill. Mr 
Murray was a member of the Council, representing the Johannesburg 
Society to Help Civilian Blind. He was head of Social Welfare Services 
of the Johannesburg City Council, and on account of his interest in this 
direction, he rendered valuable service to the Council in this field. He 



178 



served on various committees and sub-committees, and was also a 
member of several deputations to State departments. He served the 
Council as treasurer until 1960. After his departure Mr F. A. Peters was 
elected treasurer and he still occupies this position. It is thus remark- 
able that in the half century of the Council's existence, there were only 
three treasurers, namely Mr H. A. Tothill, M.P., Mr D. N. Murray and 
Mr F. A. Peters. A report concerning the latter will follow later. 

At the same meeting of the National Council an amendment to the 
constitution^ was adopted by which the Council was authorised to 
nominate a Patron, an Honorary President and two Honorary Vice- 
Presidents. Thus at the election of officers Miss J. E. Wood was elected 
Honorary President, and Miss M. Watson and Mr H. Matthews 
Honorary Vice-Presidents. 

We proceed to report on the outstanding events in the history of the 
National Council during the period under review. 

Rehabilitation Centre 

Certainly the most important project which the Council undertook 
during this period was the establishment of the Enid Whitaker Rehabi- 
litation Centre, which was opened on 15 March 1957. It was the fulfd- 
ment of a number of years of planning and preparation. 

The rehabilitation and care of a person who had become blind later 
in life was a matter v/ith which every society for the blind had to cope 
at some time or other. Some societies had made very effective attempts 
to combat the problem and were able to show good results. They were 
especially those who had a system of home- teaching. There were 
others who had psychological services at their disposal. It is thus erro- 
neous to think that rehabilitation services only began with the estab- 
lishment of the Centre. It was, however, felt that an organised scheme 
should be brought into being by which the necessary specialised atten- 
tion could be given, especially to newly blinded persons. 

Miss Enid Whitaker was the first to come forward with a concrete 
proposal. She thus deserves the honour of being the person who initi- 
ated the eventual establishment of a rehabilitation centre. 

At a meeting of the Executive Committee held on 25-26 March 1952 
Miss Whitaker handed a copy of a report on her overseas visit to each 
member, in which she elaborated on the establishment of a rehabilita- 
tion centre for persons who had become blind in later life. After full 
discussion she was requested to draw up a detailed memorandum con- 
cerning the matter. 



179 



Miss Enid Whitaker after whom the Rehabili- Mrs Mildred Marks, founder member and for 
tation Centre is named. many years President of the Port Elizabeth So- 

ciety for the Blind. 




The original Enid Whitaker Rehabilitation Centre, opened in Pretoria on 13 August 1956. 



180 



Miss Whitaker herself had become blind in later life. This had hap- 
pened while she was on active service in the Middle East during the 
Second World War. She then went to England, where she attended an 
adjustment course at a rehabilitation centre for the blind. She there- 
fore had first hand knowledge of such a centre and could appreciate 
the value of the services rendered. 

At the next meeting of the Executive Committee Miss Whitaker sub- 
mitted a comprehensive memorandum on the establishment of a reha- 
bilitation centre. It was resolved to investigate the matter further. The 
Chairman of Council, Dr L. van Schalkwijk, concerned himself perso- 
nally with the project. 

Progress was not made according to expectations, however, since at 
first there was uncertainty as to whether the Council itself should es- 
tablish the centre and finance it, or whether it should be entrusted to 
an affiliated society with generous financial aid from the Council. The 
latter point of view probably gained the day and consequently the 
second question arose, namely the place where the centre should be es- 
tablished. In this connection Bloemfontein, King William's Town and 
Worcester were mentioned. Finally it was considered that the Hill- 
coombe Holiday Home in East London would possibly be the most 
appropriate place, since in the first instance a building was available 
and secondly the Board of Management and staff of the institution had 
experience in caring for and supervision of blind people. 

After much deliberation Dr Van Schalkwijk, as Chairman of the 
Committee which had been appointed to investigate the establishment 
of the centre, submitted a report to the Executive Committee at its 
meeting held on 1 and 2 October 1953. 

From the report it appeared that Council had already approved the 
establishment of a rehabilitation centre in principle. The practicability 
of the project had still to be investigated. 

After a long exposition of all that was understood by the concept of 
rehabilitation, the committee recommended that a beginning be made 
at Hillcoombe, depending on the attitude which the Board of Manage- 
ment of the holiday home would adopt towards such a proposition. 
The Committee stated its case as follows: 

"The Sub- Committee felt that the project should initially be on a 
very modest scale . . . Such modest beginnings could conceivably 
be made at the Hillcoombe Holiday Home, but this suggestion 
should not exclude consideration of a scheme elsewhere. It is not 



181 



thought appropriate that Council itself should establish and con- 
duct the centre, but rather that an affiliated society, in this case 
the East London Society, should undertake the task, with ade- 
quate subsidy from the Council." 
It was then resolved to send a deputation (under leadership of Dr 

Van Schalkwijk) to East London to negotiate with the Society. The 

other members were Miss E. Whitaker, Mrs M. Marks and Mrs V. 

Fleming. The Organising Secretary of Council, Mr D.J. van Wyk, acted 

as secretary. 

In the report of the deputation it was stated that the Board of Man- 
agement of the East London Society had expressed their misgivings as 
to the advisability of housing the rehabilitation centre and the holiday 
home under the same roof. A separate unit would in any case have to 
be erected, which, according to municipal regulations, would have to 
be attached to the existing holiday home. Such a unit, which would 
serve as the centre, would then fall under an independent board of 
management. Furthermore, the Board of Management of the Society 
took a very firm stand with regard to the financing of the unit. It had to 
be the sole responsibility of the Council. In any case the Board of Man- 
agement of the Society had to report to its members on the recommen- 
dations for a final decision. 

The deputation in its report also gave an estimate of the costs. In the 
last paragraph it was recommended that Council should negotiate with 
the Worcester Institute in order to determine whether that body would 
be prepared to provide rehabilitation facilities at less expense to the 
Council than in the case of Hillcoombe. In view of this it was recom- 
mended that Worcester should be visited. 

The visit took place on 27 March 1954. According to the report of 
the interview which Dr P. E. Biesenbach, as Superintendent of the 
Workshop and Homes for the Blind, had with the committee, the 
Worcester Institute had decided to extend its own rehabilitation facili- 
ties, with which it had already been occupied for several years. Dr Bies- 
enbach provided information about what was envisaged. 

The course, which would take three months, would include the fol- 
lowing: psychological guidance and rehabilitation in the workshop or 
school as a form of occupational therapy, instruction in braille and 
typewriting, instruction in orientation and locomotion, medical and 
ophthalmic services, social rehabilitation, and religious guidance ac- 
cording to the Church denomination of the rehabilitees. 



182 



The course would be flexible and would continually be adapted in 
the light of experience gained. 

The personnel would consist of a psychologist in charge of rehabili- 
tation, a placement officer, a teacher of braille and typewriting and any 
other members of the school and institution staff who might find it 
possible to be of assistance. 

Both English and Afrikaans-speaking candidates would be admitted 
from anywhere in South Africa, South West Africa and Rhodesia. 

Committee members expressed their doubts as to whether the 
scheme could be a success without an officer who was an expert in the 
field of rehabilitation. Dr Biesenbach, however, was convinced that the 
staff members to whom the task was entrusted would be able to per- 
form it adequately and successfully. 

In view of the impending departure of Dr Van Schalkwijk overseas, 
where he would, inter alia, visit rehabilitation centres, it was resolved 
to leave the matter in abeyance. In the meantime contact would be 
kept up with the Worcester Institute. 

In this connection the following is reported in the minutes of the 
meeting of the Executive Committee of 27-28 September 1954: 

"The Organising Secretary reported that he had been informed 
by the Worcester Institute for the Blind that it is progressing with 
its section for rehabilitation and that its first married rehabilitee 
had already been admitted into the married quarters. The Wor- 
cester Institute authorities had also extended a welcome to the 
Council's Chairman to discuss matters concerning rehabilitation 
in the light of his recent trip overseas." 

In spite of the activities at Worcester, the Executive Committee of 
the National Council resolved to continue with the establishment of its 
own centre. The sub-committee, however, was divided regarding the 
use of Hillcoombe for both holiday home and rehabilitation centre. 
Besides this, it appeared that the East London Society was reluctant to 
undertake the project on behalf of the Council. 

The Pretoria Society was approached in the meantime and stated its 
willingness to negotiate. A new sub-committee was appointed by the 
Executive Committee, who met the Management Committee of the 
Pretoria Society on 16 January 1956. 

From this stage onwards rapid progress could be reported. An im- 
portant aspect of the negotiations was that the Pretoria Society had 
agreed that their trained home- teacher could act as part-time rehabili- 



183 



tation officer. Thus the centre was ensured of professional services. The 
Council was also fortunate to procure a large dwelling house which 
was situated near to the Pretoria Society's office and workshop. This 
helped to ease the double duties of the home- teacher. 

Initially it was intended to hire the house, but later it was decided to 
buy it. Certain alterations and renovations, however, were necessary. 
The person who was appointed part-time superintendent and rehabili- 
tation officer was Miss E.J. Geyer, who had successfully completed the 
course for home-teachers at the Royal National Institute for the Blind. 

After the preliminary arrangements for the purchase, renovation 
and equipment of the house and the appointment of personnel had 
been completed, the centre was ready to receive its first rehabilitees. 
The first person was admitted on 15 March 1957. The official opening 
took place on 30 October 1957 by the then Minister of Social Welfare, 
the Honourable J. J. Serfontein. 

The work began on a small scale. At the beginning the personnel 
consisted of the superintendent, a matron and a domestic. A Manage- 
ment Committee was appointed by the Executive Committee compris- 
ing representatives of the Council on the one hand and the Pretoria 
Society on the other. This Committee also occupied itself with the gen- 
eral organization in matters where the superintendent needed assis- 
tance. Besides this, a house committee consisting of ladies from the 
Pretoria Society was appointed to help the superintendent with the 
domestic affairs. 

As more rehabilitees were admitted to the centre, the duties of the 
rehabilitation officer inevitably increased. The result was that she 
found it impossible to occupy both positions, that of home- teacher of 
the Society and rehabilitation officer at the centre. It was then decided 
to make the post of superintendent/rehabilitation officer a full-time 
one. Miss Geyer was appointed to the post in a full-time capacity from 
1 April 1958. 

As the result of a resolution by the Executive Committee of Council, 
the rehabilitation centre was placed under the control of the Commit- 
tee for Rehabilitation, Training and Employment in 1959. The original 
management committee of the centre was consequently abolished. The 
rehabilitation officer had to report to the Committee for Rehabilita- 
tion, Training and Employment on the general organization of the 
centre as well as the rehabilitees. The Chairman would then incorpo- 
rate this information in his reports to the Committee and the Council. 



184 



At a meeting of the Executive Committee held on 29-31 October 
1957 it was resolved to name the rehabilitation centre after Miss Enid 
Whitaker, on whose initiative the centre had been established. It would 
thus be called the Enid Whitaker Rehabilitation Centre. 

The first report of the rehabilitation officer which formed part of the 
report of the Commmittee for Rehabilitation, Training and Employ- 
ment (dated 12 August 1958) was submitted to the Executive Commit- 
tee at its meeting of 13 and 14 October 1958. It contained a report on 
the progress which the rehabilitees had made as well as information 
about their placement. It is significant that right from the beginning 
the aim was not only "social rehabilitation", which was in vogue at the 
time, but also that genuine attempts be made to place these people in 
employment. In this connection the Chairman of the Committee (Mr J. 
H. van Niekerk) wrote as follows: 

"Apart from our object in view to assist them to adapt themselves 
mentally and emotionally to blindness, we also provide some 
training for re-employment ... We are authorised to proceed 
with our plans to transform the garage into a workshop for ele- 
mentary training in v/oodwork." 

The Chairman also mentioned that to date (i.e. from 15 March 1957 
to 12 August 1958) fifteen persons (eight men and seven women) had 
been ;'dmitted to the centre. 

He concluded his report as follows: 

"The Centre functions as an ordinary home and our staff is much 
smaller than in similar circumstances overseas. Comparison is 
therefore difficult. We are confident, however, that we ultimately 
achieve the same object, namely the return of a man into himself 
as a contributor to society." 

The last sentence can be considered to be the credo of the centre, 
from the first year of its existence up to the present. 

It stands to reason that the financial aspect of the centre caused the 
Council concern, since it was soon realised that expansion would be 
necessary. The Council had already at an early stage made representa- 
tions to the Department of Social Welfare for financial aid. It invoked 
clause 6 of the Blind Persons Act which makes provision for the pay- 
ment of subsidies to: "hostels, homes, workshops and other places for 
the admission and training of persons who are completely or partially 
blind". Subsidies would also be paid in respect of the "emoluments of 



185 



persons who were employed by such a society or by the Council". 

It took four years, however, to obtain the subsidies. In the Chair- 
man's report of the Division for Employment and Rehabilitation for 
the period April to October 1961, the following was stated: 

"At least we can report that the Department of Social Welfare and 
Pensions has granted us a subsidy of Rl 000 per year from 1 April 
1961. There are several conditions attached to this subsidy, and 
negotiations will again be entered into with the Department in 
this connection." 
It appeared that the Department objected to the "training and re- 
training" which could possibly take place at the centre. It seemed that 
the Department inclined towards the system of social rehabilitation. 
After interviews with the Under-Secretary of the Department had taken 
place, these conditions for the granting of the subsidy were waived and 
in this connection we read the following in the minutes of the meeting 
of the Division for Employment and Rehabilitation of 24 February 
1962: 

"The Chairman explained that the Department of Social Welfare 
was prepared to waive entirely the wording on the certificate on 
the balance sheet to the effect that no vocational training or re- 
training was being given to any inmates of the Centre." 

It is almost inconceivable that rehabilitation can take place without 
holding out the prospect of possible employment. This would inevi- 
tably imply a certain degree of training or re- training. The school of 
thought in vogue in those days, however, was that rehabilitation 
should be social only and thus the Council, and particularly the Div- 
ision for Rehabilitation and Employment, should be commended for 
their farsighted and modern oudook on matters. 

When Miss Geyer resigned from the post of rehabilitation officer on 
30 April 1962 after five years of service, the Council had difficulty in 
finding a qualified person to take her place. It has been mentioned be- 
fore that there were only three trained home- teachers in the country at 
that time, and the other two were not available. 

While efforts were being made to procure a suitable person, Miss C. 
Potgieter of the General Post Office staff acted as temporary rehabili- 
tation officer for three months. At length somebody was appointed to 
the post in the person of Miss E. van der Wolk, who assumed duty on 3 
September 1962. Before she could orientate herself satisfactorily for 
her new task, she had to undergo an emergency operation in February 



186 



1963, and she resigned on 19 March 1963. The post was immediady 
adverdsed and Miss J. Erwee was appointed. She assumed duty on 1 
June 1963. 

Although Miss Erwee had no home- teaching or social work qualifi- 
cadons, she had a very good insight into the problems of the blind. 
After having passed the matriculadon examination at the Worcester 
School for the Blind, she completed the course in shorthand and 
typing, and after that started work as a dictaphone typist - first in the 
office of the principal of the Worcester School for the Blind and later 
in the civil service. Here the honour was accorded her to become the 
personal typist of the then Minister of Posts and Telegraphs, the 
Honourable T. Naude. 

Miss Erwee (later Mrs Bennett) was superintendent of the centre for 
a period of four-and-a-half years undl the end of 1967. The detailed 
and informative reports which she regularly submitted regarding the 
rehabilitees were proof of the excellent manner in which she per- 
formed her duties. This was also the view of the Chairman of the Com- 
mittee for Rehabilitation and Employment in his reports. 

As early as 1962 there were sdrrings amongst members for the 
building of a new rehabilitadon centre. Apart from the fact that the 
terrain lacked space for the expansion which they had in mind, the 
building itself had become dilapidated. Year after year more money 
had to be spent on essendal repairs. It was also realised that the man- 
agement of a rehabilitadon centre in an ordinary house, however 
large, could only be a temporary measure. The Council then started a 
building fund since it was realised that a considerable amount of 
money would be needed to erect a new rehabilitation centre. Also, it 
would be necessary to obtain a site which would have to comply with 
certain condidons. The quesdon arose as to whether this would indeed 
be possible in Pretoria. There were members, including the Chairman 
of the Committee for Rehabilitation and Employment, Mr L. C. Jervis, 
who were of the opinion that the centre should be moved to Johannes- 
burg. Not all members of the Committee were agreeable to this. 

The existing site was considered ideal and it was thought perhaps by 
the more conservative members that the atmosphere of Pretoria would 
be more suitable for rehabilitadon than Johannesburg. At a meeting of 
the Division for Rehabilitadon and Employment held on 23 January 
1965, a full discussion on the Centre took place about which the min- 
utes record the following: 



187 



**The Chairman gave a brief description of the RehabiHtation 
Centre and its furnishings. He felt it was not possible under exist- 
ing circumstances and with the material available to do rehabili- 
tation work — the circumstances were not conducive to the reha- 
bilitation of blind people. There was no possibility of extending 
or altering the centre to meet their needs and he felt a new centre 
should be provided." 
In view of the above the Division resolved to appoint a sub-commit- 
tee to investigate the matter and to make recommendations concerning 
possible future developments. The sub-committee presented its report 
to the meeting of the Executive Committee* held on 31 March 1965. 
The following extract from the report indicates the strong views of the 
sub-committee on the matter: 

"We recommend that immediate steps be taken to build a Reha- 
bilitation Centre which will provide the facilities required. . . , 
The greatest concentration of blind people is in Johannesburg 
and along the Reef and consideration should be given to the es- 
tablishment of the Centre in this area." 
The Executive Committee was in agreement with the recommen- 
dation of the sub -committee and resolved: 

"That the principle for the establishment of a new rehabilitation 
centre is acceptable; such a centre must be situated in Johannes- 
burg. . . . The Division for Rehabilitation and Employment is re- 
quested to investigate the project from all angles and to report 
back to the next meeting of the Executive Committee." 
During the following six months the Division devoted a great deal of 
attention to the matter and in a memorandum^ which Mr Jervis, the 
Chairman, submitted to the Executive Committee meeting, he re- 
ported on the progress which had been made. 

The most important aspect of the project was certainly the fact that 
the Johannesburg Society for the Blind had consented to the estab- 
lishment of the new rehabilitation centre on its terrain at Klipriviers- 
berg (now Roseacre). 

It would, however, be an independent unit, of which both the erec- 
tion and its financial maintenance would be the sole responsibility of 
the National Council. As regards the costs connected with the building 
of the centre, there was a strong possibility that a subsidy would be ob- 
tained from the Department of Social Welfare so that the Council 
would not be obliged to bear the full cost. 



188 



The Chairman also indicated that negotiations had already taken 
place between the Division and the Johannesburg Society, and that it 
would be necessary to draw up an agreement between the Society and 
the Council at a later stage. 

In his memorandum the Chairman described how certain practical 
measures could be applied to eliminate duplicating services set up by 
both the Society and the Centre. In this way it would be possible that 
specified sleeping and eating facilities which the centre might require 
could be provided by the Society's complex. 

In later reports progress in respect of the project was regularly an- 
nounced, such as discussions with the architects, drawing up of 
building plans, advertising for tenders and the erection of the building 
itself. Later it was announced that the centre would be completed in 
November 1967. 

In January 1968 the first rehabilitees were admitted to the new Enid 
Whitaker Rehabilitation Centre, Rewlatch Road, Roseacre, Johannes- 
burg. As Mrs J. Bennett (the former Miss Erwee) had resigned in 
November 1967, a new rehabilitation officer had to be appointed from 
the beginning of the following year. The choice fell on Miss A. S. 
Steenkamp, who assumed duty in the new centre on 1 February 1968. 
She continued with the work for four years and resigned on 31 De- 
cember 1971. On her departure the Chairman thanked her for the de- 
dication with which she had performed her duties.* 

Mrs C. M. Oosthuysen was appointed as Miss Steenkamp's succes- 
sor. She was formerly a senior welfare officer of the Johannesburg So- 
ciety. With her qualifications (a degree in welfare work) and experi- 
ence, it was clear that she was a suitable candidate for the post. She 
assumed duty on 1 January 1972. 

During Mrs Oosthuysen's term of office the staff was much en- 
larged. This was necessary in order to make the rehabilitation process 
as complete as possible, and to provide for the divergent needs of the 
various rehabilitees. Mrs Oosthuysen had come to realise the compre- 
hensiveness of a programme for rehabilitation as a result of her over- 
seas study tour in 1973, and had visited rehabilitation centres in vari- 
ous European countries. 

Because the Rehabilitation Centre works with human material 
which is unique in many respects, it may perhaps be inadvisable to 
measure its success according to the number of rehabilitees who com- 
pleted the course during a given period. We know that there are im- 



189 



ponderable factors which are more important than mere statistics. Yet 
the following figures will give an indication of the scope of the work, 
or rather of the need which existed for a programme of rehabilitation 
for blind persons in our country. 

At first the admissions in Pretoria were more or less two to four at a 
time, and the duration of the course was approximately six to eight 
weeks per rehabilitee. The size of the building determined the intake. 
Another factor was that both sexes had also to be accommodated. 
When the move to Johannesburg took place more accommodation was 
available, and with a larger staff more persons could be admitted. The 
programme for each rehabilitee could also be expanded, with the re- 
sult that the period for rehabilitation could be lengthened to approxi- 
mately twelve weeks. In this connection the following was taken from 
the report of the Chairman of the Committee for Rehabilitation and 
Placement^ which appeared in the 23rd biennial report of Council 
(1974-1976): 

"In the period 1 January 1974 to 31 December 1974 a total of 35 
persons completed the full rehabilitation course. Extended 
courses were given to 18 persons, whereas 16 persons received 
temporary social assistance. After-care services were rendered to 
40 past rehabilitees." 
The figures for the year 1975 were approximately the same as for 

1974. To cope with the work, the necessary staff must be available. 

Concerning this the report states the following: 

"As far as the staff position is concerned, we are grateful to report 
that our staff now consists of a senior rehabilitation officer, an as- 
sistant rehabilitation officer, a mobility instructress, a typing in- 
structress, a braille instructress and a full-time typist. There are 
also posts for a handicraft and telephone instructress. It is hoped 
that the latter two posts will shortly be filled. In the meantime we 
are gratefully using the services of the telephony training facilities 
of the Johannesburg Society to Help Civilian Blind." 
The courses which the centre offers are stated in a brochure which 

was published by the Council in 1976. They are classified under the 

following headings: 

Orientation and Mobility 

Communication practices (braille and typing) 

Telephony 

Activities of daily living. 



190 



Besides this, a complete programme in social and psychological gui- 
dance is given with a view to re-entry into normal life. Attention is also 
given to employment. 

Since the beginning of 1977, when Mr V. H. MacFarlane assumed 
office (Mrs Oosthuysen had resigned at the end of 1976), instruction in 
the use of the optacon is also given. Mr MacFarlane, who completed a 
course in this, is capable of giving the instruction. The optacon is an 
electronically controlled apparatus which makes it possible for a blind 
person to read ordinary print. It is a very useful and, in some cases, es- 
sential instrument, especially for students, teachers and professional 
persons. 

In conclusion it should be stated that there is at present a long wait- 
ing list of persons who have applied for admission. The list is approxi- 
mately as long as that of the total admissions for one year. This matter 
keeps the Committee for Rehabilitation continually occupied, and 
soon the physical enlargement of the centre will have to be considered. 
This is at present receiving attention. 

The Cape Town Regional Office 

The creation of a post of fund-raiser for the Cape Peninsula inevitably 
led to the establishment of the Cape Regional Office. The resolution 
was taken by the Executive Committee at a meeting held on 10 
November 1948, and was confirmed by Council. It was further decided 
that the venture would be in the nature of an experiment for twelve 
months, and that Miss A. F. Gillies would be appointed to the post. 

Miss Gillies had already proved her worth long before, especially 
during the annual "Our Blind Day" fund-raising. As a result of the 
very successful efforts of the Cape Town Committee, of which Miss 
Gillies was a member, the annual Cape Town collection and fund-rais- 
ing far exceeded those of the other large centres. 

Miss Gillies assumed duty on 1 February 1949 on a temporary basis 
for one year, but was permanently appointed at a meeting of the 
Executive Committee held on 6 and 7 October of that same year. The 
Chairman remarked on the excellent results she had obtained with 
fund-raising during the year. 

At a meeting of the Executive Committee held in March 1950 Miss 
Gillies gave an account of her work. She stated, among other things, 
that on account of insufficient office assistance, her efforts were 
seriously hampered. It was then resolved that the local committee in 



191 



Cape Town be authorised to make provision for the appointment of a 
paid assistant when it should be necessary. This was especially the case 
when Miss Gillies was out of town, and the office needed somebody to 
be in charge. 

The success which was achieved in the Cape Peninsula is reflected in 
the statements on collections throughout the country for the period 1 
January to 30 September 1950 (subjoined to the minutes of the meet- 
ing of the Executive Committee of 17 October 1950). The following are 
the amounts to the nearest hundred pounds: 
Cape Peninsula £16 000 (R 12 000) 
Rest of Cape Province £5 100 (RIO 200) 
Rest of the country £4 200 (R8 400) 
This success was repeated in 1951. 

To its dismay, however, the Executive Committee was informed by 
Miss Gillies at its meeting of March 1952 that she would be leaving 
Cape Town and was thus obliged to resign. A Committee of the Cape 
Town members was instructed to consult with Miss Gillies as to how 
measures could be taken to keep the office in Cape Town functioning. 
For the first time also the possible appointment of a public relations 
officer was discussed. It was then resolved to appoint a sub-committee 
to go into the question of the appointment of a public relations officer, 
and also to deliberate on a possible incumbent. 

Great relief was felt, however, when Miss Gillies withdrew her resig- 
nation at the next meeting, but she applied for leave without remuner- 
ation for the two months January and February. This was readily 
granted. The local committee would make arrangements to keep the 
office going as efficiently as possible. 

Probably encouraged by the success of the Cape Town office, the 
question was raised' as to whether this system of fund-raising could be 
extended to other parts of the country. It was then resolved to create a 
second similar post, the incumbent to be stationed partly in Pretoria 
and partly in Johannesburg. 

In contrast with the position in Cape Town, the Council did not 
meet with the same success with its fund-raising in the north. This was 
chiefly due to the fact that the persons who had been appointed re- 
signed shortly after they had assumed office. 

In spite of what appeared to be a setback, the Council and the vari- 
ous northern societies continued with their fund-raising efforts, and 
gained good results. A Joint Fund Committee was established to co- 



192 



ordinate the fund-raising of the various organisations on the Witwa- 
tersrand. A collective effort by the Council and the Johannesburg So- 
ciety vs^as undertaken by which one third of the collected money would 
go to the Council and two thirds to the Society. The personnel of head 
office themselves pulled their weight and organised countrywide col- 
lections during "Our Blind Week". These untiring efforts bore good 
fruit and the Council procured the necessary funds to enable it to con- 
tinue with its work. 

It was the Council's aim, however, apart from fund-raising, to de- 
velop a system by which the Council and its work, as well as the image 
of the blind, would be brought to the attention of the public. For this a 
wide publicity campaign was necessary. To launch such a project suc- 
cessfully it was imperative that a capable, well-informed and enthusi- 
astic person should be appointed as public relations officer. Such a 
person was, however, hard to find. 

At its wits' end, the Council resolved to appoint Mr S. K. Wentworth 
as acting public relations officer in addition to his work as Director of 
the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness. A revival in the field of 
publicity took place as a result of the enthusiasm with which Mr Went- 
worth undertook every task entrusted to him. This can be seen in the 
first report which he submitted to the Executive Committee. In it he 
reported on quite a number of events, functions and exhibitions which 
had taken place during the week preceding "Our Blind Day". He also 
made several recommendations as to how the question of publicity 
should be dealt with. 

We find, however, that Mr Wentworth was back at the Bureau for 
the Prevention of Blindness in a full-time capacity from the beginning 
of 1958. The question of public relations work and fund-raising was 
referred back to the Executive Committee by the Council with full 
powers to act according to their discretion. 

Thus it happened that the Executive Committee appointed Mr J. 
Ellis as Public Relations Officer with headquarters in Cape Town at its 
meeting of 1 7 to 19 March 1959. Mr Ellis was a blinded ex-soldier who 
had been in the service of the St Dunstan's Association. A sub-commit- 
tee for fund-raising was also appointed, consisting of Dr L. van Schalk- 
wijk, Mr A. B. W. Marlow, Mr G. S. Schermbrucker, with Mr H. Mat- 
thews in an advisory capacity, to make arrangements for acquiring 
office equipment etc., and to assist Mr Ellis at the start of his new work. 
In connection with the division of work between Miss Gillies and Mr 



193 



Ellis, it was resolved that it should be a mutual arrangement between 
themselves. This was possible since very good co-operation existed be- 
tween them. Miss Gillies would confine herself to the Cape Peninsula, 
while Mr Ellis's activities would range throughout the country. 

At the biennial meeting of the Council held in October 1960, Mr G. 
S. Schermbrucker, Chairman of the sub -committee (now named the 
Public Relations Sub -Committee) reported on the work of the Public 
Relations Officer. Mr Ellis was very active and good results were forth- 
coming. When the report was discussed objections were raised by the 
Johannesburg Society in connection with the relation between the 
Public Relations Officer and the Joint Fund for the Blind. Overlapping 
was taking place and the Public Relations Officer was entering the field 
of the Joint Fund. It was decided that discussions should take place be- 
tween the Committee of the Joint Fund and the Public Relations Sub- 
Committee to setde the matter. 

At the meeting it was resolved that the Public Relations Sub -Com- 
mittee be transformed into a standing committee, namely the Public 
Relations Committee. 

The following persons were elected as members of the Public Re- 
lations Committee for the following biennial term, 1960—1962: 

Messrs G. S. Schermbrucker, A. McKellar White, T. Cutten, L. 
Olivier and L. Levey. 

As the activities of the Committee and those of the Public Relations 
Officer fall within the range of the following period of the Council's 
history, from 1961, the matter will receive attendon in a later chapter. 

When reading the reports of the Cape Town office one is struck by 
the fact that other work was also done besides fund-raising. Thus we 
find that one of the extra activities of the office was the recruiting of 
donors of corneas which could be used for transplants. Miss Gillies 
stayed in close touch with ophthalmologists and hospitals and reg- 
ularly supplied statisdcs about the number of corneal transplants 
which had been done. 

One is also impressed by the large number of voluntary helpers 
which Miss Gillies could enlist for the roudne work in the office, such 
as addressing envelopes and preparing circulars and pamphlets for dis- 
patch. Then also, at the end of every report of the Cape Town office, a 
special word of thanks was expressed to a well-knovm Cape firm which 
did the auditing free of charge. 

A big task undertaken by the Cape Town office, which extended 



194 



over quite a number of years, was the publication and distribution of a 
richly illustrated book about South Africa, written and compiled by Mr 
C. S. Stokes and Miss C. Gillies. Its title was Golden Heritage, and it was 
the third book which Mr Stokes had written about South Africa. The 
other two are Sanctuary dind Joyful Errand. The books were very well re- 
ceived by the public as well as the press. As a result of the publication 
of Golden Heritage a legacy of £2000 (R4 000) was received from a per- 
son from Knysna. The total profit from the sale of the book amounted 
to R61 000. In every respect, thus, it was a praiseworthy effort and fi- 
nancially a great success. To conclude, the results of some of the out- 
standing efforts of that era were the following:^ 

Stickers sold during the Van Riebeeck festival (1952) : R5 110 
Stamps sold during the Silver Jubilee (1954) : R16 954 

Joyful Errand — sales : R61 176 

Golden Heritage — sales : R21 922 

The Cape Town Office with Miss Gillies at the helm had thus made a 
valuable contribution to the financial stability of the Council. 

A mouthpiece of its own 

It is of the greatest importance that the work of any organization be 
made known by means of its own journal or mouthpiece. The Execu- 
tive Committee realised this and the matter was raised for the first time 
at a meeting held on 15 October 1956 when the following resolution 
was passed: 

"That it be a recommendaton to the National Council that a 
monthly newsletter be issued and that consideration be given to 
issuing a quarterly or half-yearly magazine in connection with 
blind welfare services in South Africa and overseas." 
The minutes of the meeting of the Council which followed directly 
after the abovementioned meeting make no mention of the recom- 
mendation, but it must have been approved, for at the meeting of the 
Executive Committee which followed afterwards (20 October 1956), an 
editorial committee was appointed. The members were Dr L. van 
Schalkwijk and Messrs W. Cohen and V. H. Vaughan. Mr Cohen was 
appointed editor. 

The first issue of the Newsletter, as it was called, appeared in 
November 1956, and it has been issued since then without interruption 
until today, although the name has been changed. The wish which the 



195 



editor expressed in the last paragraph of his first report to the Execu- 
tive Committee, dated 14 September 1959, has indeed become a real- 
ity: 

"In conclusion, your editor . . . regards it as a privilege to under- 
take this honorary task, and trusts that the Executive will allow 
him to continue in office for a further period, preferably an in- 
definite period." 
Initially the Newsletter was duplicated on ordinary folio size paper. 
All news items and articles appeared in both languages, so that the 
Newsletter was a completely bilingual publication. The other members 
of the editorial committee assisted with the translation. Sometimes 
some of the office staff were called in to help. Later on the Newsletter 
appeared in a smaller format, but still duplicated, with a more attrac- 
tive cover. 

The duplicating, arranging, stapling, wrapping, franking and dis- 
patching of the Newsletter was done by the staff of the office. Consid- 
ering that, according to the editor's report, the monthly distribution 
figure was 1 260 at that time (1959), one can well imagine what an im- 
mense task it was. Fortunately they were able to obtain volunteers to 
assist them with the work. 

The editor mentioned in later reports that both the press and the 
South African Broadcasting Corporation often took over news- items 
from the Newsletter. It also happened that telephone requests were re- 
ceived for more information about specific news items. 

The Newsletter remained a duplicated publicadon until September 
1961, when it was decided that it would appear in print. A number of 
changes then took place, amongst which was the change of name. Im- 
fama was decided Upon, which is the Xhosa word for a blind person. It 
was now also possible to illustrate the publication with photographic 
material. 

In the first issue of Imfama (September 1961)^ messages from MissJ. 
E. Wood, Honorary President of the National Council, and Dr Louis 
van Schalkwijk, Chairman, appeared in English and Afrikaans respec- 
tively. The practice to publish all subject matter in both languages was 
abolished. A good balance between the two languages was kept, how- 
ever. 

Miss Wood concluded her message as follows : 

"The Editor of The Newsletter has done such wonderful work 
and I wish him all success in this new venture. It has been a great 



196 



help to us in the Library to get news of our readers and of other 
societies and we are very grateful for this help." 
Dr Van Schalkwijk mentioned the fact "that a magazine is the only 
efficient means by which knowledge of the work can be spread and the 
solidarity of the participating societies can be furthered". He writes 
further that, simultaneously with the appearance of the publication in 
its new form, steps were also being taken to have it printed for the first 
time in braille. 

A photograph of the office bearers of that time appeared on the first 
page of the first issue of Imfama. They were Dr L. van Schalkwijk 
(Chairman), Mr Walter Cohen (First Vice-President), Mr A. B. W. Mar- 
low (Second Vice-President), Mr S. K. Wentworth (General Secretary) 
and Mr C. W. Kops (committee member). 

It is quite interesting to page through the first few editions, and thus 
be able to recall a specific part of the Council's history, and that of its 
affiliated societies. This is reflected in the articles, reports, records and 
news-items which appear in it. To supplement these an editorial ap- 
peared each month, alternately in English and Afrikaans, in which 
matters concerning the activities of the Council were dealt with. It was 
written under the heading: In the opinion of your Editor. 

A few years later Imfama increased in size and its cover became 
more attractive. The photographs were clear and the layout more pro- 
fessional. The publication was indeed a credit to the National Council. 

Unfortunately, on account of the rising cost of paper and printing, 
the Council was obliged to curtail the number of issues and as from 
1974 it appeared every alternate month, thus six times per year. 

Today Imfama is an indispensable part of the activities, organization 
and development of the National Council and its affiliated and associ- 
ated bodies. Apart from the publicity value which it has for the Council 
by making its activities known, it also serves a specific purpose by keep- 
ing a record of the development of services to the blind and the 
achievements of the blind themselves. As such it is of inestimable value 
to the future research worker. 

In 1962 the Council resolved to publish a monthly magazine in 
braille, specifically for blind Black readers in their own languages. Ini- 
tially only one magazine was published, with the title of Difofu, with 
articles in Zulu/Xhosa braille and Sepedi/Sotho braille in alternate is- 
sues. At the request of the readers it was decided to cease the publica- 
tion of Difofu and to publish two separate periodicals, namely Sedi- 



197 



SILVER JUBILEE 
1929-19U 







Members of the Executive Committee at the time of the Silver Jubilee of the S.A. National Coun- 
cil of the Blind in 1954. From left: R. F. Good (Dept. of Finance), V. H. Vaughan, Dr K. Wm- 
terton (Health), J. H. van Niekerk, Rev. A. W. Blaxall, K. M..Pillay, W. Cohen, Mrs V. Flemmg, 
Miss E Whitaker, D. N. Murray (Treasurer), Dr L. van Schalkwijk (Chairman), D.J. van Wyk (Or- 
ganizing Secretary), Mrs V. H. Pond (Committee Clerk), Miss A. F. Gillies (Cape Town Office), S. 
K Wentworth (Bureau Director), Mrs M. Marks, Miss A. M. Rogers, Mrs O. Hopwood, Mr T. F. 
Coertze (Native Affairs), A. H. Cluver, A. B. W. Marlow (Vice-Chairman), H. Matthews (Vice-Pre- 
sident). 



198 



beng in Sepedi/Sotho and Ilanga Lethu in Zulu/Xhosa. Dr Cohen is the 
editor of both. 

Silver Jubilee 

In 1954 the Council commemorated the 25th anniversary of its found- 
ing with the sale of jubilee stamps and a special edition of the twelfth 
biennial report. In the report the Chairman, Dr L. van Schalkwijk, 
paid a fitting tribute to the pioneers, such as Adv. R. W. Bowmen, Rev. 
A. W. Blaxall and Miss J. E. Wood. After that he outlined wha.t he con- 
sidered to be the chief characteristics of what can be called a complete 
welfare service for the blind. 

After that a description followed of the services rendered by the 
National Council and its affiliated societies, with a summary of what 
was held in prospect. The Chairman also stated that many gaps still 
existed, and in this connection he vsnrote as follows: 

"Some of these gaps are (to mention the most important) insuffi- 
cient sheltered employment facilities for Non- Europeans, home 
teaching or home workers' schemes which are only in their initial 
stage, and placement in the ordinary competitive labour market. 
There is also need for extending personal welfare services to the 
blind, which would include home visiting, assistance in the home 
and the provision of recreational, cultural and spiritual ameni- 
ties." 

In the report statistics were given with regard to the number of blind 
persons who received pensions and the amount paid out annually. On 
31 March 1954, 21 496 persons of all races were receiving pensions, 
and the amount for the financial year 1953/1954 was estimated at 
£420 300 (R840 600). More statistics followed such as the distribution 
of blind persons among the four different race groups and in the four 
provinces of the then Union of South Africa. 

Thereafter data were supplied about the "establishment and chron- 
ological development of the National Council and each of the blind 
welfare societies and institutions in the Union of South Africa". 

It starts with the foundation of the Worcester Institute for the Blind 
in 1881 and the most important events, with dates, of its historical de- 
velopment. After that followed the establishment in 1918 of the Society 
for the Blind in Durban. Next came the S.A. Library for the Blind in 
Grahamstovm in 1919. After this reference is made to the estab- 
lishment of the first group of societies, and the National Council itself 



199 



with a brief summary of its development and the various forms of ser- 
vices to the bUnd. 

In a separate statistical table figures were supplied in respect of the 
26 affiliated societies concerning matters such as the year of estab- 
lishment, number of blind persons on register, in sheltered workshops, 
in hostels and homes, and so forth. An interesting figure was the num- 
ber of trained social workers in the service of the Council and the vari- 
ous societies. It was stated that the Council itself had two in its employ 
and the total for the Societies was ten (six Whites and four Blacks). 

On the cover of the Jubilee Report is a reproduction of the famous 
painting by G. F. Watts, R.A., with the title: Hope. It portrays a blind- 
folded woman sitting on the world, and playing on a harp with a single 
string. This illustration also appeared on the jubilee stamps which 
were sold in aid of the National Council during the year 1954. The lat- 
ter venture was launched from the Cape Town office. The various af- 
filiated societies were involved with the selling of the stamps, and their 
co-operation was excellent. As can be imagined, it was a very big 
undertaking, considering that five million stamps had been printed for 
distribution. The proceeds were considerable and well worth the 
trouble. Apart from the financial benefits, the sale of the stamps 
brought the activities of the Council to the attention of the public. 
Large placards which were used as advertisements for the sale of the 
stamps also helped with this. 

Visit of Helen Keller 

An outstanding event which took place during the period under dis- 
cussion was the visit of Dr Helen Keller, the famous deaf-blind Ameri- 
can woman, to South Africa. The invitation to visit our country came 
from Rev. A. W. Bl^ixall on behalf of the S.A. National Council for the 
Blind and the S.A. National Council for the Deaf. After her departure 
Mr Blaxall published a booklet with the title: Helen Keller under the 
Southern Cross, which was a description of this historic visit. The first 
part of it, which deals chiefly with the trends of thought and philo- 
sophies of Helen Keller, was compiled by Mr Blaxall, and the second 
part, approximately 18 pages, was written by herself. In this she gives 
some impressions of her visit. 

Dr Helen Keller arrived in Cape Tovm by sea on 15 March 1951, ac- 
companied by her friend and companion. Miss Polly Thompson, and 
Mr Alfred Allen of the American Foundation for the Blind, New York. 



200 



Miss C. E. Aucamp, 
S.A.B.W.O. 



President of the Miss A. F. Gillies, for years organiser of the 
Cape Town office and member of the Board ol" 
the Athlone School for the Blind. 




Visit of Helen Keller to the Athlone School for the Blind on 2 1 March 1 95 1 . Mr H. Russell, Chair- 
man of School Committee, Mr A. B. W. Marlow, Principal, Miss H. Currey, member of School 
Committee, Helen Keller, Polly Thompson. 



201 



Their sojourn in South Africa lasted two months and a week. The party 
departed for America on 22 May 1951. 

Those centres where active organizations or institutions for the blind 
and deaf existed were visited, such as Cape Town, Worcester, Gra- 
hamstown. Port Elizabeth, East London, King William's Town, Dur- 
ban, Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and Kimberley; and besides the 
above, also Pietermaritzburg, Uitenhage, Alice (Lovedale), Potchef- 
stroom and Salisbury. Apart from visits to institutions for the blind 
and deaf, public meetings were held at most places. 

Scrutinising her itinerary, one is astonished that a woman of seventy, 
so seriously handicapped, could undertake such a strenuous tour. She 
had numerous appointments for interviews, functions, meetings and 
visits to schools and institutions. The public flocked to hear her speak. 

Some of the outstanding functions which were arranged in her 
honour were a civic dinner in the Cape Town City Hall, a reception at 
the American Embassy, a function by the Administrator of the Cape 
Province, a function by the University of the Witwatersrand, on which 
occasion she received an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, tea with 
the Prime Minister and Mrs Malan, also with the Governor- General 
and Mrs Jansen, and a garden party by the Mayor of Cape Town. 

In connection with her visit to Groote Schuur she wrote: "It was de- 
lightful with South African hospitality and the gracious privacy in 
which our hosts entertained us. ... I touched the ridged-back lion- 
dog that followed us wherever we moved. Dr Malan put into my hand 
some lovely roses that were part of the garden's colourful glory, and 
cordially wished me the fulfilment of all my desires for the well-being 
of the handicapped of South Africa." 

With regard to her visit to Worcester her remarks were: "The swift, 
generous response of the Worcester people is among the dearest me- 
mories of my South African tour". She also had kind words for the 
S.A. Library for the Blind in Grahamstown and for Miss Josie Wood, 
its head: "Lovingly^ I cherish her gende face, her warm handclasp, 
quiet ways in memory." 

In the section of the book written by Mr Blaxall he gave his im- 
pressions of Helen Keller as gleaned from her speeches and lectures. 
Amongst all her moving utterances Mr Blaxall quotes the following 
one especially: 

"I believe that through these dark and silent years God has been 



202 



using my life for a purpose I do not know, but one day I shall 
understand, and then I will be satisfied." 
The visit to South Africa by Helen Keller brought the cause of the 
blind and the deaf vividly to the attention of the public. The press gave 
ample coverage to the visit, and the newsreels continually showed fa- 
cets of her travels in their programmes. Miss A. F. Gillies, Regional 
Organiser of the National Council in Cape Town, who was chiefly re- 
sponsible for the organization there, wrote in a report to Council: 
"The outstanding feature in 1951 was the visit of Helen Keller 
and Polly Thompson . . . Their most memorable visit created 
considerable interest in the welfare of the blind and deaf and had 
a most rewarding influence on the work of affiliated societies and 
the Council in South Africa." 
Mr Blaxall must be commended for this gigantic undertaking, which 
he carried out so successfully. Although he had the co-operation of or- 
ganizations for the deaf and blind throughout the entire country as 
well as that of many individuals, the responsibility of making all the ar- 
rangements run smoothly rested on his shoulders. The tour not only 
benefited the two National Councils, but also furthered the cause of 
the blind throughout the country. 

Death of Chairman and Secretary 

We have indicated at the beginning of the chapter that the year 1961 
can be considered as the conclusion of an era on account of the death 
of Dr Louis van Schalkwijk on 29 August of that year. In the same year, 
indeed only ten days previously, on 19 August, Mr D. J. van Wyk, Or- 
ganising Secretary of the Council, died. A short summary of the life 
and work of Mr Van Wyk now follows, and after that an account of the 
versatile life led by Dr Van Schalkwijk and the role he played as Chair- 
man of Council and in the interests of the blind. 

Mr D. J. van Wyk 

Daniel Jacobus van Wyk (born 1898) joined the staff of the Council as 
its Organising Secretary in 1943. He had previously been Town Clerk 
of Clocolan, O.F.S., and had done military service during 1942. 

He proved to be a dutiful and loyal official of the Council. On vari- 
ous occasions the different chairmen had remarked on these qualities. 
Although one cannot regard him as having been a person with vision 
or with outstanding resourcefulness, it can well be said that he carried 
out the tasks and commissions with which he had been entrusted, 



203 



either by the Executive Committee or by the afFihated societies, with 
conscientious zeal. His meticulous handling of money matters was also 
much appreciated. 

He represented the Council at various conferences and attended an 
international seminar on vocational rehabilitation for the blind at 
Manor House, Torquay, England, in 1956 as the representative of the 
National Council. Manor House is one of the rehabilitation centres of 
the Royal National Institute for the Blind, London. After that he vis- 
ited institutions in Holland, Belgium, Scodand and England and also 
had interviews with various persons in the field of rehabilitation and 
employment both in sheltered workshops and in open labour. The re- 
port of his visit, which lasted from 23 March to 31 May 1956, was com- 
prehensive and informative. He concentrated chiefly on the organiza- 
tion of rehabilitation centres, since the Council was occupied with the 
establishment of its own rehabilitation centre at that time. 

For approximately three years before his retirement in June 1961 his 
health left much to be desired. When he was unable to attend the bien- 
nial meeting of the Council at Port Elizabeth on October 1958 the Act- 
ing Chairman of Council, Mr Walter Cohen, sent him a letter of appre- 
ciation on behalf of the Council and expressed the hope that his health 
would improve. It did not, however, but in spite of impaired health he 
continued with his work. From June 1960 until his retirement in June 
1961 he had to take sick leave. He passed away on 19 August 1961. 

Dr L. M. A. N. van Schalkwijk 

In the field of education, rehabilitation and the provision of welfare 
services to handicapped persons, Louis van Schalkwijk must certainly 
be regarded as one of the most knowledgeable persons of his time. 
This was also acknowledged internationally. The high esteem in which 
he was held overseas is shown by the many letters of appreciation for 
his services which were received after his death from prominent per- 
sons in the field. 

There were mainly two reasons why the National Council should 
consider itself fortunate in having obtained the valued services of Dr 
Louis van Schalkwijk as Chairman. The first was the fact that he had an 
intimate knowledge of the civil service at the highest level and could 
negotiate directly with the most senior officials, and even Ministers. 
The second was the fact that he had then already retired and was able 
to devote all his time to the Council. He took upon himself a consider- 



204 



able amount of work of a purely administrative nature. In fact it can be 
said that, although in an honorary capacity, he was actually in the full- 
time employ of the Council. After his death the Acting Organising Sec- 
retary, Mr S. K. Wentworth, wrote the following to a friend: "All of us 
now must carry some additional burden and I pray that we shall be 
equal to it." 

Except for a short time at the beginning of his career when he was a 
teacher in an ordinary school, he devoted his whole life to the handi- 
capped. It became such a part of him that on one occasion he said: 
"People seemed to interest me only if they suffered from some disabil- 
ity or other."'*' 

Louis Marthinus Albertus Nicholas van Schalkwijk was born in 
Mossel Bay in the year 1888. After his university education in Cape 
Town he entered the teaching profession and taught at Simonstown 
and Carnarvon. At Simonstown he counted Dr H.J. Hugo, at one time 
Director of Hospital Services in the Transvaal, among his pupils, and 
at Carnarvon he taught Dr Biesenbach, former Principal of the Wor- 
cester School for the Blind. According to the latter he was appointed as 
an assistant teacher at the Carnarvon High School in January 1914, 
and later in the same year as Principal. His versatility is evident from 
the fact that he was capable of teaching any subject required in a high 
school. He was then only 26 years of age. 

Later he went to Amsterdam to further his studies in philosophy, 
psychology and education. He obtained a doctor's degree with a thesis 
on the Social Education of John Dewey and his Philosophical Basis. 

He visited England, Germany and Austria to study institutional 
methods with regard to the education and rehabilitation of the handi- 
capped such as the deaf, the blind, cripples, epileptics, sub-normals, 
the severely retarded, psychopaths and juvenile delinquents. He not 
only acted as an observer but at times also worked in the institutions 
without remuneration. This served as a preparation for his long and 
distinguished career in all these fields in South Africa. 

After his return he was appointed chief inspector of schools in the 
Union Department of Education. His duties chiefly concerned the 
education of the handicapped, the maladjusted, and juvenile delin- 
quents in reformatories. His studies had prepared him eminently for 
the task. The duties of the inspectors working under him did not in- 
clude the inspection of schools for the blind and the deaf. He under- 
took this responsibility himself. A visit by Dr Van Schalkwijk to any 



205 



school was always an outstanding event. He usually made use of the 
opportunity to address the staff and the pupils. Many ex-pupils still re- 
member the interesting anecdotes he told of his experiences abroad. 
His inspections were very thorough, and his reports on individual 
teachers fair and complete. He was meticulous in the use of language 
and was perfectly bilingual. He was especially fond of inserting Latin 
expressions here and there in his reports, memoranda and letters. In 
connection with his inspectorship Dr P. E. Biesenbach v^ote in Imfana 
after his death: "I shall never forget how he always strove to obtain as 
much as possible from the Department for the school. He acted as the 
intercessor for the school at the Department, not as the protector of 
the Department. The school owes the appointment of its first Vice- 
Principal and that of its adequate staff, the establishment of the braille 
printing press and other facilities of the thirties, to him." 

He was responsible for an extremely important change of policy in 
connection with special education of a different character. This was the 
transfer of the reformatories from the control of the Department of 
Prisons to the Department of Union Education. In this he proved him- 
self to be a true educationist. It was his conviction that the rehabilita- 
tion of young violators of the law should take place within the sphere 
of education. Legislation was necessary for this step, and it was mostly 
through his intervention that the Act in question was passed by Parlia- 
ment in 1935. 

Another piece of legislation with which he was intimately involved 
was the Vocational and Special Education Act of 1928 (Act No. 21 of 
1928), which formed the original cornerstone for all subsequent legis- 
lation concernerning special education in South Africa. From 1 April 
1925 the subsidisation of special schools was transferred from the pro- 
vincial administrations to the Union Education Department. After that 
several other matters in connection with financing, provision of staff, 
conditions of appointment of personnel, grants to pupils, criteria for 
admission, duties and responsibilities of school management boards, 
etc. had to receive attention. This had to be included in the Act and the 
regulations, for which Dr Van Schalkwijk was largely responsible. 

In October 1937 the Department of Social Welfare was established 
and Dr Van Schalkwijk was transferred from Union Education to the 
post of Superintendent of Welfare and Probation Services in the new 
Department. In this capacity he was responsible for the rehabilitation 
of deviate adults, which included such categories as alcoholics, work- 



206 



shy persons, criminals and those with psychological deviations such as 
psychopaths. During his period of service in the Department of Social 
Welfare he also made an important contribution to the drafting of the 
Children's Act. 

In 1941, during the Second World War, he was transferred to the 
Department of Defence in the capacity of Director of Readjustment 
Services for Disabled Soldiers. He was in charge of personnel ap- 
pointed in the larger centres to serve the interests of soldiers with 
physical disabilities, often also in hospitals. 

Later Dr Van Schalkwijk was transferred to the Department for De- 
mobilisation which was chiefly concerned with the adjustment of re- 
turned soldiers. Those who suffered from some injury or other, physi- 
cal or mental, were placed in sheltered workshops, of which nineteen 
had been established. Today quite a number of these institutions, to 
which civilian disabled persons are now admitted, still exist. 

After the end of the Second World War, in 1946, he was appointed 
permanent representative of the Union of South Africa on the Social 
and Economic Council of the United Nations Organization in New 
York. He served on this body for six years until his retirement in 1952. 
During the last year of his membership he acted as its chairman. 

He was appointed to various government committees and his advice 
was always in demand on account of his wide knowledge and experi- 
ence. His chairmanship of the Committee for the Provision of Educa- 
tion for the Partially Sighted, of which a report appeared in 1958, was 
of importance in so far that the education of partially sighted children 
was finally placed under the Union Education Department. Before that 
uncertainty had existed as to whether it should fall under the provin- 
cial education departments or under the central governement. The re- 
sult was that the first school for partially sighted children, namely the 
Prinshof School for the Partially Sighted, was established in Pretoria in 
1963. 

Mention has often been made in previous chapters of the important 
role played by Dr Van Schalkwijk in the history of the S.A. National 
Council for the Blind, as well as in its establishment. This was also the 
case with the National Council for the Deaf The first meeting which 
led to its foundation was also in 1928 and Dr Van Schalkwijk (along 
with Mr Blaxall) was actively involved in it. He also served on the 
Executive Committee of the National Council for the Deaf for several 
years. 



207 



In the course of his official duties, but specifically on account of his 
knowledge, he was involved with practically all the National Councils, 
and served on the Executive Committees of most. This applied inter 
alia to Child Welfare (of which he was the Vice- Chairman at one time). 
Mental Health, the Aged (of which he was the co-founder and at one 
time secretary). Everywhere he made his influence felt and became in- 
volved in their activities. 

Dr Van Schalkwijk often travelled overseas, where he had many con- 
tacts as a result of his duties at U.N. O. His travels were always on be- 
half of the handicapped, no matter to what category they belonged. 
On one occasion he drew up a lengthy report on rehabilitation in Eng- 
land at the time when the National Council was devising plans for a 
similar centre in South Africa. In another report on the training of 
physiotherapists he revealed that he had attended classes at the Lon- 
don School of Physiotherapy of the R.N.I.B. for a full day. He also 
played an important role in the World Council for the Blind. He rep- 
resented the National Concil for the Blind at the initial conferences 
and, as could be expected, was very soon elected a member of the 
Executive Committee of that body. He was also the Chairman of one 
of the World Council's most important committees, namely that which 
concerned itself with the rural blind. He was also invited to become a 
member of the Executive Committee of I.C.E.B.Y. (International 
Council for the Education of Blind Youth) when it was first estab- 
lished. 

Dr Louis van Schalkwijk was a well-read man, and a good conversa- 
tionalist on a wide variety of subjects. He was especially interested in 
the behaviour patterns of psychopaths. 

In one of his letters he remarked incidentally that he was once re- 
quested to address a branch of the Theosophical Society. His subject 
was "Psychic Monism". In a tribute to him Blaixall wrote in Imfama 
(November 1961) as follows: "At such time I could only listen with 
breathless amazement as he ranged from subject to subject, for his was 
truly an encyclopaedic mind as far as the welfare of handicapped 
people is concerned. Often I would go away from such talks won- 
dering whether it was not the complexity of his own personality which 
made him so sympathetic in all his dealings, especially with children at 
schools where it was his duty to inspect." 

Dr Van Schalkwijk was well versed in both official languages and 
could use them with equal fluency. He was fond of detail, with the re- 



208 



suit that his memoranda and reports might perhaps have been consid- 
ered too long drawn out. Dr C. W. Wright of the Department of La- 
bour at that time, and a familiar figure at meetings of the Council, 
related some of his recollections of Dr Van Schalkwijk in Imfama 
(December 1961). He told the following anecdote. After his return 
from New York, Dr Van Schalkwijk drew up a detailed report for the 
Minister, then Dr Karl Bremer. This included a summary of ten pages 
at the end. The Minister returned the report with the request that Dr 
Van Schalkwijk should summarise it. When it was explained that there 
was indeed a summary, the Minister made a second request, "to our 
Louis' ' dismay" to "ask Van Schalkwijk to make a summary of his 
summary." 

His predilection for Latin expressions has already been mentioned. 
In a letter to Mr Wentworth in answer to one written by Dr Cohen to 
express the Council's regrets that he had been prevented from attend- 
ing the 14th biennial meeting of the Council in Port Elizabeth, Dr Van 
Schalkwijk wrote as follows: "I wish to express to you as the amanuen- 
sis and to Mr Walter Cohen as, I assume, the auctor intellectualis of the 
contents ... my sincere thanks for the sentiments expressed in the let- 
ter". Dr Wright (previously quoted) tells of an incident at a meeting of 
the National Readjustment Committee when there was a discussion on 
the problems experienced with some ex- soldiers. Dr Van Schalkwijk' s 
comment was: "What these men need is a liberal helping of panes et 
circenses". Upon this one member retorted: "No matter what they 
need, will the last speaker kindly adhere to the two official languages of 
the country." 

Besides tributes paid to him in this country after his death, numer- 
ous tokens of appreciation were received from prominent people over- 
seas. Among these was the Director of the American Foundation for 
Overseas Blind, Mr E. T. Boulter, Colonel E. A. Baker, Chairman of 
the World Council for the Blind, Mr E. H. GetclifF, Chairman of 
LC.E.B.Y., Mr (now Sir) John Wilson, Director of the Royal Com- 
monwealth Society for the Blind, Mr J. C. Colligan, Secretary- General 
of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, and others. All these mes- 
sages and tributes are proof of the high esteem in which he was held 
abroad. 

We conclude with a quotation from a tribute to Dr Van Schalkwijk 
by the Editor of Imfama (Dr Walter Cohen), which appeared in the 
October 1961 issue: 



209 



"Every detail of a blind man's life was of paramount importance 
to him - his social life, his economic life, his domestic life, no de- 
tail was too trivial to escape his attention. He was a tactful and in- 
spiring chairman of conferences and notwithstanding his full ap- 
preciation of the principles on which social work is based, he was 
essentially a realist and a practical man . . . 
We extend our sympathy to his bereaved family. But perhaps we 
may be forgiven if we offer our sympathy to those who will be 
most affected by the passing of Louis van Schalkwijk - to the 
blind people of all races in South Africa who will have lost one of 
the best friends they have ever known." 
After his death the Council established a Louis van Schalkwijk Mem- 
orial Fund to which generous contributions from all parts of the 
country were made. It was resolved later to use the funds thus collected 
to add a new wing to the S.A. Library for the Blind, Grahamstown, 
where the new tape recording department would be housed. This can 
be considered a fitting permanent tribute to Dr Van Schalkwijk by vir- 
tue of his interest in the education and cultural welfare of the blind. A 
commemorative plaque was unveiled in the new tape recording de- 
partment of the library on 15 February 1964 by Dr Walter Cohen, then 
Chairman of the Council. 

• Elected at 11th biennial meeting of Council, held at Grahamstown on 24 and 25 September 
1952 

2 Imfama, part 1, No. 3 November 1961, page 3. It was included in the tribute paid by Dr Blaxall 
to Dr Van Schalkwijk after his death. . . . ^ , 

3 In the twelfth biennial report of Council (1952-54) the complete constitution is found on page 
41 with the additional amendments. In clause 10(b) provision was made for the nomination ot 
a Patron for the Council. A resolution about this had already been adopted at the first biennial 
meeting held on 10 March 1931. The Governor- General at that time and Lady Clarendon were 
invited to become the Patrons and they accepted. Since then the succeeding Governors-General 
graciously agreed to accept the nomination and after the Republic was declared in 19bl, the 
State Presidents. 

4 Held 31 March and 1 April 1965. . u u • u m^;; 

5 Addendum to Agenda ofthe 93rd meeting of the Executive Committee held in October 1965. 

6 In the meantime the name ofthe Division had been changed to the Committee for Rehabilita- 
tion and Peacement. 

7 At the Executive meeting of 23 September 1952 - minutes, page 5. 

8 Resume of work of the Cape Town office, 1949-1967, compiled by Miss Gillies. 

9 The numbering had started again from the beginning. The September edition was thus Vol. I, 
No. I. There were 45 numbers of the old Newsletter altogether. 

'"Sixteenth Biennial Report (1960-62), page 4. 



210 



CHAPTER 9 



CONSOLIDATION AND FURTHER 
DEVELOPMENT - / 
1961 to 1979 

We have now reached the last two decades of the first half-century of 
the Council's existence. This covers the period from 1961 to the pres- 
ent day. 

A review of this era shows a consolidation of existing services and 
projects on the one hand and the introduction and development of 
new ones on the other. The latter became necessary as a result of the 
specialised and sophisticated requirements of blind persons. Examples 
ofthese are inter alia the optacon, the speech plus calculator, various 
kinds of electronic appliances in connection with mobility, new optical 
devices (including closed circuit television) and selective reading matter 
in the different media for the growing number of university students. 

The above and many more make heavy financial demands on the in- 
dividual with the result that the National Council is often requested to 
render assistance. This, together with its numerous other commit- 
ments, causes the Council to consider its fund-raising very seriously. 
For this purpose it makes use of its Public Relations Committee and its 
Public Relations Officer who play a key role in this respect. 

In spite of the expansion of services during this period, quite a num- 
ber of gaps still existed. These not only concerned the nature and ex- 
tent of the services but also the geographical coverage of the various 
parts of the country. The result was that in actual fact the Council's 
activities could not be considered truly national in character. A Gaps in 
Services Committee was established to investigate and reveal these 
gaps. The activities and findings of this Committee will receive atten- 
tion later. 

An important development which occurred during this period was 
the establishment of Divisions for Indians and Coloureds. This 
brought about a change in the structure of the Council. The circum- 



211 



stances which led up to it, as well as the activities of the Divisions, will 
be dealt with later. 

An event of great national importance took place in 1961 when 
South Africa became a republic and later withdrew from the British 
Commonwealth of Nations. This fact is mentioned because the 
National Council, our schools for the blind and other organizations 
such as the S.A. Library for the Blind, had for many years close con- 
nections with the Royal National Institute for the Blind in London, 
and it was feared that this valuable contact would now be severed to 
the detriment of our work. Although we lost certain privileges such as 
a discount on braille books and certain appliances bought from the 
R.N. LB. a very important concession remained, namely the training of 
our physiotherapists. Through the goodwill of the Principal and the 
Board of Management of the School of Physiotherapy of the R.N. LB. 
our students are still allowed to take the course. Furthermore, South 
Africans are always welcome at the R.N. LB. when they visit London, 
and are treated with the greatest cordiality. Thus the bond between the 
R.N. LB. and our organizations for the blind still remains strong. It 
will be shown later in what respect the Council and some of its mem- 
bers play a leading role in the international field. 

Political developments in South Africa had an effect on the activities 
of the Council. Here we refer especially to the establishment of the 
self-governing Black homelands, which eventually - in the case of 
three to date — led to the creation of independent sovereign states. 
They are the Republic of Transkei, Bophuthatswana and Venda. In this 
connection certain aspects of the activities of the Council and its affili- 
ated members are affected. The first concerns the affiliation of societies 
which fall within the newly founded states, and the second is the con- 
trol and subsidising of workshops which are situated in the self-go- 
verning homelands. The activities of the Bureau for the Prevention of 
Blindness are also affected to a certain extent. 

Before proceeding to deal with the outstanding events and charac- 
teristics of this era it is necessary to state the position with regard to the 
officers of the Council. 

After the death of Dr Louis van Schalkwijk in August 1961, Dr 
Walter Cohen, the first vice-chairman of the Council, acted as chair- 
man for the rest of the biennial term. At the following meeting of the 
Council, held in October 1962, in East London he was unanimously 
elected chairman. Mr A. B. W. Marlow was elected deputy chairman 



212 



and Mr F. A. Peters treasurer. 

As stated before Mr D. J. van Wyk, the Organising Secretary of the 
Council, had died in August 1961. In his place Mr S. K. Wentworth, 
Secretary of the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness, was ap- 
pointed. Mr L. N. F. Pretorius, who was a member of the adminis- 
trative staff of the Council, was appointed Secretary of the Bureau. 

We now proceed with an account of the Council's activities for the 
period under review. We begin with the Public Relations Committee. 

The Public Relations Committee 

The Public Relations Committee was established in 1960. It started as a 
sub-committee which was appointed to assist and advise the newly ap- 
pointed Public Relations Officer, Mr J. Ellis. The sub-committee, op- 
erating from Cape Town, took more and more responsibilities upon 
itself, chiefly on account of its geographical position. The result was 
that the Council decided to give the sub-committee the status of a full 
standing committee. The new Public Relations Committee very soon 
became the key committee for all aspects of fund-raising and publicity 
work of the Council. Later on it took upon itself the administration of 
the Cape Regional Office. It was a fortunate coincidence that most 
members of the Public Relations Committee came from the south, and 
that the Public Relations Officer resided in Cape Town. It was due to 
the above circumstances that the National Council established an of- 
fice in the south of the country, with all the advantages attached to it. 

The first meeting of the Public Relations Committee was held in 
Cape Town on 21 October 1960. The following were present: 
Elected members: Messrs G. S. Schermbrucker, Theo Cutten, Louis 
Olivier, L. Levey and A. McKellar White. 

Ex-officio members: Dr L. van Schalkwijk, Messrs W. Cohen and A. 
B. W. Marlow. Mr S. K. Wentworth, Acting Organising Secretary, at- 
tended the meeting in his official capacity. 

The first task of the meeting was to nominate a chairman. The 
choice fell on Mr G. S. Schermbrucker.^ 

As could be expected, the meeting paid considerable attention to 
various aspects of propaganda, publicity and fund-raising. The mem- 
bers were requested to appoint sub -committees in their respective 
areas to promote the work of the Committee. Reports of the work of 
these sub-committees had to be submitted periodically, and the Public 
Relations Officer had to be notified of their activities. 



213 



Much attention was also given to the duties of the Public Relations 
Officer. It was reaHsed that he was the pivot round which everything 
revolved. He was required to draw up his itineraries beforehand, and 
to send copies to the members as well as to head office. He would also 
have to do likewise with his reports on his return. To furnish the Public 
Relations Officer with as much information as possible, all relevant 
documents, news items, press reports and similar material should be 
placed at his disposal. Head Office would have to be specially helpful, 
as it was imperative that the Public Relations Officer should be com- 
pletely conversant with the entire spectrum of the activities of the 
National Council and its affiliated societies. 

When perusing the minutes of the meetings of the first few years as 
well as the reports of the Chairman and the Public Relations Officer, 
one is impressed by the huge task which the Committee successfully ac- 
complished right from its inception. The members of the Committee 
were capable and dedicated people. Besides the Chairman the names 
of Mr Theo Cutten and Mr McKellar White should be mentiond. Mr 
Cutten used his association with the press to promote the work of the 
Committee and the Council. For some time he was responsible for a 
column in a Johannesburg afternoon paper which dealt with the activi- 
ties of welfare organizations on the Witwatersrand. He gave much 
prominence to the activities of the Council. He also concerned himself 
with fund-raising functions and general propaganda work for the 
Council. He will be remembered as someone who often sharply criti- 
cised the Council's fund-raising efforts, but it was always done in the 
interests of the cause. Mr McKellar White used his knowledge of fi- 
nance and related matters, as a retired manager of a commercial bank, 
for the benefit of the Committee and the Council. He rendered 
valuable service in an honorary capacity to the Cape Town Office. For 
many years he visited the office almost daily. He continued with this 
until advancing years caused him to resign as a member of the Com- 
mittee. He regularly submitted detailed reports on the fund-raising ef- 
forts of the Cape Town office at the meetings of the Executive Commit- 
tee. He considered it a pleasure to render this service to the Council. 
The Chairman of the Committee, Mr G. S. Schermbrucker, should 
also be mentioned. In spite of a busy private practice as a physio- 
therapist he played an active role in the activities of the Public Re- 
lations Commitee. This included the organization of the Cape Town 



214 



office and the work of the Pubhc Relations Officer. As regards the of- 
fice, he chiefly concerned himself with the affairs of the staff He be- 
lieved that the key to the success of any undertaking is to be found in a 
satisfied and efficient office personnel. Consequently he succeeded in 
obtaining the services of competent and dedicated persons. In regard 
to this, he stated his case so convincingly at meetings of the Executive 
Committee and the Council that it seldom occurred that his requests 
were not acceded to. 

A problem with which the Committee and the Republic Relations 
Officer had to cope, especially in the inital years, was the resistance of 
affiliated societies to the raising of funds by the National Council in 
areas where they themselves were active. This matter was at one stage 
brought up at practically every meeting of the Executive Committee 
and the Council. This intrusion of the Council on the local terrain 
caused much ill feeling at times. Various proposals were considered, 
some of which were accepted. This resulted in a measure of agreement. 
In most cases a percentage of such funds was handed over to the local 
organization. In other cases agreements were concluded for the distri- 
bution of the funds among the various associations which operated in 
a particular area. Matters were settled amicably, however, as time went 
on. We also find that in later years, when the various organizations had 
become financially stabilised, the problem of intrusion on one 
another's domain virtually disappeared, so that there are hardly any 
signs of friction at the present day. 

The creation of the post of Public Relations Officer was a forward 
and advantageous step by the Council. The Committee was fortunate 
in finding a capable person in Mr J. Ellis to fill the post. He was well 
versed in the activities and financial needs of the Council, and as a 
blind person he could state the case of the blind in a logical and con- 
vincing manner. The various reports of his tours, especially those 
which he undertook in the rural areas, prove that not only did he de- 
vote himself to fund-raising, but also strove to further the cause of the 
blind and to spread the image of the Council. He reported in detail on 
his interviews with prominent persons in the various towns, meetings 
which he had addressed, talks and demonstrations which he had given 
at schools, and especially discussions which he had with local authori- 
ties concerning street collections. 

Besides the short-term advantages of his visits, it can also be men- 
tioned that in the long term reward for his work came in the form of 



215 



legacies, which later proved to be an important source of income for 
the Council. 

It sometimes happened that large donations came unexpectedly to 
the Council from sources it had not been aware of beforehand, which 
can possibly be ascribed indirectly to the efforts of the Public Relations 
Officer. An outstanding example of this should be mentioned here. In 
1961 a firm donated the following items to the Council which, when 
sold, fetched a substantial amount: six new Anglia cars, six new 
Hoovermatic washing machines, six electric food mixers and a large 
quantity of linen. 

The Public Relations Officer and the Committee of the Cape Town 
Office continually devised new plans to promote fund-raising. Accord- 
ing to the reports of the Chairman, it appears that the chief source of 
income was derived from appeal letters. The numbers sent out in- 
creased yearly until they reached the three quarter million mark in 
1976. 

These appeal letters had to be composed with forethought and in- 
sight. The wording had to contain an appeal which would touch the 
heart of the reader and induce him to contribute towards the funds of 
the Council, but also had to state the case of the blind and that of the 
National Council with dignity and restraint. An addition was made 
later which would further enhance the value and heighten the impact 
of the appeal leetters. An illustrated folder was inserted which high- 
lighted a particular facet of blindness or the activities of the Council. 
When scrutinising the folders of the past years one finds not only a 
portrayal of the services rendered to the blind but also an account of 
their achievements, their life style and education, as well as the aids 
and appliances which are on the market, and the like. The folders thus 
give a survey of the process of development of the National Council 
and of the blind over the years. 

On several occasions the Public Relations Committee considered the 
establishment of regional offices in other large centres, similar to the 
Cape Town Regional Office. 

At the time there as an active Regional Committee for fund-raising 
in Natal under the direction of Major G. Leonard Arthur, M.E.C. He 
was the Natal representative on the Executive Committee of the Coun- 
cil, and a member of the Public Relations Committee. 

At a meeting of the Executive Committee held in April 1964, follow- 
ing a proposal by Major Arthur, a resolution was passed to establish a 



216 



regional office in Durban and to appoint a regional organiser. It was 
also resolved "that the Natal Regional Committee define the duties 
and control the work of the Regional Organiser and submit regular re- 
ports to Head Office on his work".^ Thus the first Regional Organiser 
outside Cape Town was appointed in Durban on 1 July 1964. He was 
Mr A. Goodfellow. 

Although the Regional Organiser and the Natal Regional Office 
functioned independently from the Public Relations Committee, co- 
operation between the two took place eventually. In October 1965 the 
Executive Committee resolved that the Natal Regional Office should 
be under the control of the Public Relations Committee. 

The Natal Regional Offiice did not function satisfactorily, however, 
and often showed a deficit. After a thorough investigation in loco the 
offiice was closed on 30 June 1966. 

Although proposals were again put forward later to establish 
regional offiices in other large centres, the Council, on the recommen- 
dation of the Public Relations Committee, decided against this, as ex- 
perience had proved that decentralisation of fund-raising was unprofi- 
table. Up to the present the Cape Town Regional Office is the only 
office of the Council outside Pretoria. 

After a very successful term of offiice which lasted seven years Mr 
Ellis resigned as Public Relations Offiicer of the National Council on 3 1 
May 1966 to accept a post with the St Dunstan's organization. On his 
departure tribute was paid to the outstanding services he had rendered 
to the Council. 

When the filling of the vacancy was discussed the Committee passed 
two important resolutions. The first was that the post would not be ad- 
vertised but that a suitable person would be sought. The second was 
that preference should be given to the appointment of a blind person 
provided that he was considered competent. The minutes^ read as fol- 
lows : 

"It was generally felt that a blind person as Public Relations Offi- 
cer would bring things home more effectively to the public and 
have a stronger appeal." 
The Chairman then informed the meeting that he had Mr William 
Rowland, a blind practising physiotherapist, in mind as a candidate for 
the post. The matter was fully discussed, and after the candidate had 
been interviewed the committee unanimously resolved to make a rec- 
ommendation to the Executive Committee that he be appointed. It was 



217 



also resolved that the new officer would work along with Mr Ellis dur- 
ing the last two months of the latter's term of office. Mr Rowland 
agreed to this. 

Mr Rowland's appointment was confirmed but not before the ques- 
tion had been raised as to why the post had not been advertised.'* This 
was satisfactorily dealt with. Mr Rowland assumed duty on 1 June 
1966. His headquarters were in Cape Town, as was the case with his 
predecessor. 

The position was now that there were two separate offices in Cape 
Town, namely the Cape Town Regional Office and the office of the 
Public Relations Officer. There had already been discussions with re- 
gard to a possible fusion of the two offices. Miss A. F. Gillies, Regional 
Organiser in Cape Town, presented a memorandum in which she ad- 
vocated such an amalgamation. Her chief considerations were, firstly, 
overlapping of services and administrative work, and secondly the con- 
fusion which it caused in the minds of the public. The Public Relations 
Committee, however, were of the opinion that the time for this was not 
yet ripe, and even after Miss Gillies' resignation at the end of 1967 it 
was decided to advertise her post. The person (a lady) who was ap- 
pointed, occupied the post for only eight months. She resigned in 
August 1968. It was then decided to incorporate the Cape Town 
Regional Office into the office of the Public Relations Officer. This was 
done at a meeting of the Public Relations Committee held on 17 Sep- 
tember 1968. A reorganisation was necessary, and this was brought 
about by the Chairman and the Public Relations Officer. Approval of 
this took place at a meeting of the National Council in October 1968. 
Mr Rowland was placed in full control of the Cape Town Office. 

On account of these additional responsibilities, the question arose 
as to whether Mr Rowland would be able to do justice to his public re- 
lations duties, since the enlarged office would of necessity demand 
much of his attention; but these fears were groundless. Mr Rowland 
proved that he was capable of coping with the office administration as 
well as with the public relations work. He could also rely on the ef- 
ficient services of Mrs Carol Thomas as chief clerk, and of Mr McKellar 
White, an active member of the Committee, to attend to the office in 
his absence. 

The many reports of Mr Rowland's travels make interesting reading. 
One is impressed by the large amount of work which he did on every 
tour and the diversity of his missions. As an example one could men- 



218 



tion a tour which he undertook along the Garden Route, and which 
lasted only six days. He visited twelve towns during that time and his 
activities included the following inter alia: interviews with Town Clerks 
and Mayors or their wives to discuss aspects of street collections, orga- 
nising a golf competition with the local secretary, discussing a project 
with the chairman of a service club, visiting a former colleague and 
discussing his problems, addressing four public meetings and showing 
films, visiting the secretary of an association for the blind, demonstrat- 
ing apparatus which is used in the education of the blind, and so forth. 
According to the report of a tour which he undertook in the Transvaal 
a few years later and which lasted 15 days, he visited 19 towns and fol- 
lowed almost the same programme as on former tours, except that in 
addition he also visited three schools for the blind and held interviews 
with the press. The result was that articles and photographs appeared 
in seven local newspapers. On this tour he covered 5 900 kilometres. 

The Public Relations Officer remarked at the end of several of his 
reports that considerable enthusiasm and goodwill had been raised 
through visits to people who might possibly be of assistance with re- 
gard to fund-raising. 

He also reported that he had paid numerous visits to people who 
had for many years already been helpful with fund-raising in order to 
convey the Council's appreciation. 

In 1972 Mr Rowland undertook an extensive overseas tour. It in- 
cluded America, Canada and various European countries. Although 
his chief aim was the study of public relations work, he also investi- 
gated various other facets of the work. Besides this he attended a con- 
ference on the education of the visually handicapped in Spain. 

After a period of ten years in the capacity of Public Relations Officer 
Mr Rowland was promoted in 1976 to Director of the National Coun- 
cil. A full report on this, as well as other aspects of his busy life, will 
follow later. 

Following the appointment of Mr Rowland as Director of the Coun- 
cil, the question arose as to whether his post as Public Relations Offi- 
cer in the Cape Town Office should be filled. Mr Schermbrucker, as 
Chairman of the Public Relations Committee, was of the opinion that 
Mr Rowland, although stationed in Pretoria, should still be regarded 
as the Public Relations Officer, along with his duties as Director. He 
would then be expected to travel to Cape Town, probably once every 
month, to keep himself informed concerning matters there, and to give 



219 



the necessary advice and assistance. No definite decision was reached 
by the Executive Committee, but the post of Pubhc Relations Officer 
was not filled in any case. In connection with this it can be mentioned 
that the Council was fortunate in having a very capable person, namely 
Mrs R. E. Ruthven, in its service as Administrative Secretary. She was 
able to take over the organization of the Cape Town Office and man- 
age it successfully. Mr Rowland's visits were of great assistance, and she 
also had the support of Messrs Schermbrucker and McKellar White. 

The fact that the Council's resources actually increased yearly as a 
result of the activities of the Cape Town Office is proof that the fund- 
raising aspect did not suffer on account of this reorganization. Last 
year the income exceeded the R400 000 mark. 

Yet the question arises as to whether the Council, in spite of Mr 
Rowland's ability to cope with the management of two offices so far 
apart, should not appoint someone to promote personal contact be- 
tween the National Council and the general public. One gains the im- 
pression that, as far as the rural areas are concerned, such a step may 
become necessary. 

In the 23rd biennial report of the Council (1974-1976) the Director 
(Mr Rowland) devotes a section to publicity and fund-raising. In giving 
an account of the activities of the Public Relations Office he touches on 
an aspect of fund-raising for the blind which deserves the attention of 
all those involved with it. This concerns the role which sentiment plays 
to induce the public to make their contributions. He writes: 

"Striking a balance between effective appeals for funds and ob- 
jective reporting on the facts of blindness is not the simple matter 
many suppose it to be. By yielding to the temptation to reap the 
short-term benefits of emotional appeals, certain organizations 
continue to frustrate efforts to improve public attitudes towards 
blindness."^ 

In this connection it can be stated that the content of the appeal let- 
ters and the folders is aimed at striking the balance described by Mr 
Rowland. The fact that the Director is personally responsible for draw- 
ing them up is a guarantee that not only will the importance of suf- 
ficient funds be stressed, but also "the philosophy of work for the 
blind" and their activities will receive proper attention. 

The Director also mentions that quite a number of essential publica- 
tions dealing with the services to the blind in South Africa saw the light 
during the biennial period. A pamphlet entided Services Available jor the 



220 



Blind and Partially Sighted compiled by Dr Walter Cohen and members 
of the staff of Head Office provides a comprehensive account of the 
services which are available; the activities at the rehabilitation centre 
are described in an illustrated brochure entided: Enid Whitaker Re- 
habilitation Centre for the Blind; the problems of partially sighted children 
are dealt with in a booklet called The Partially Sighted Pupil; and a pam- 
phlet about The Aged Blind Person also appeared. 

It should also be mentioned that, owing to the efforts of the Direc- 
tor, a radio programme for blind listeners was introduced in 
November 1975. In Touch is broadcast at fixed times on the English 
transmission of the S.A.B.C. The panel discussions, interviews and 
news reports roused widespread interest among blind as well as 
sighted listeners. The person responsible for the material of the pro- 
gramme is the Director himself. A television broadcast about blindness 
in December 1977 in which he appeared, was also very well received. 

It is thus quite clear that the Director performs his task as Public Re- 
lations Officer meticulously, in addition to his numerous duties at 
Head Office. 

Legal and Constitution Sub- Committee 

It is to be expected that a growing organization such as the S.A. 
National Council for the Blind may find it necessary to amend its con- 
stitution periodically. Usually this is done in order to make the admin- 
istration more efficient and to provide for essential developments. 
Thus we find that a few amendments were already made at the first 
biennial meeting of the Council in March 1931. This continued at in- 
tervals up to the year 1968, after which only less important modifica- 
tions were made. At present the Council functions in accordance with 
the constitution which was accepted by the nineteenth biennial meet- 
ing of the Council, held in October 1968. In this regard it can be men- 
tioned that since the foundation of the Council in 1929 practically no 
amendments to the basic objectives as formulated in the original con- 
stitution have been made. The persons responsible for its drafting in 
those early years deserve credit for their clear insight into the objectives 
which they visualised for the Council. It has already been stated that 
the Council was originally constituted as a co-ordinating body which 
could only function by virtue of the affiliation of other organizations to 
it. It cannot therefore exist per se. In the original constitution and the 
amendments which followed, this fact was acknowledged as the basic 



221 



approach. This, however, was not acceptable to everyone, and the ad- 
vantages of such a system were often disputed. In certain circles it was 
argued that the Council could not function properly on behalf of all 
the blind if it remained merely a co-ordinating body. The estab- 
lishment of the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness raised the ques- 
tion whether the Council had acted constitutionally in this respect, 
since it had operated outside its co-ordinating function. 

When the status of the Bureau was discussed at the eleventh biennial 
meeting of the Council (September 1952) there were some members 
who were of the opinion that provision for the Bureau should be made 
separately in the constitution. The majority of the members, however, 
were opposed to this. The argument was that it would lead to (as stated 
in the minutes) "a constitution within a constitution". The Bureau was 
regarded as an ordinary standing committee of the Council. 

This discussion gave Mr A. B. W. Marlow the opportunity to move 
(with Mr D. N. Murray as seconder) that the National Council should 
give consideration to the desirability of constituting itself into a 
National Institute for the Blind. ^ The Executive Committee was in- 
structed to study the implications of such a change and make recom- 
mendations to the next meeting of Council. 

The proposal was carried. 

Mr Marlow was strongly in favour of transforming the National 
Council into an Institute or Foundation which could function inde- 
pendently of its affiliated members. Such a system would be analogous 
to the situation in Britain, Canada and New Zealand, where indepen- 
dent institutions exist. 

The Executive Committee appointed a sub -committee to study the 
memorandum drawn up by Mr Marlow. The sub-committee was also 
instructed to submit a draft constitution for consideration by the 
Council. 

In Mr Marlow's memorandum the principal features of the new 
body were set forth in detail. Its independent character was clearly 
stressed. Its structure would differ considerably from that of the 
National Council. For 'instance no reference was made to any form of 
affiliation of other bodies. The country was divided into six or seven 
zones, each having a regional office under the control of the head of- 
fice. Each region would be represented by two members on the Execu- 
tive Council. In addition to these, twelve persons would be appointed 
on account of their specialised knowledge of blindness. Furthermore 



222 



there would be five representatives of national organizations and four 
office-bearers ~ approximately 35 members altogether. 

After discussing the memorandum and the report of the sub-com- 
mittee at its meeting of 1-2 April 1954 the Executive Committee passed 
a very carefully worded resolution which can be regarded as a compro- 
mise between the two systems. The Executive Committee indeed ap- 
proved the founding of an independent national body, but strongly 
recommended that the original name be retained, namely the South 
African National Council for the Blind. The name "Institute" or 
"Foundation" would cause confusion. Furthermore the Executive 
Committee stressed that the functions of the new national body should 
be regarded as supplementary to those of the societies already estab- 
lished. This meant that the new national body could only undertake 
projects of a national nature, or could act in cases where local associ- 
ations were either unable or unwilling to do so. The national body 
would also be at liberty to expand its activities in areas where there 
were no societies for the blind. 

When these recommendations of the Executive Committee were laid 
before the twelfth biennial meeting of the Council (September 1954) it 
was resolved that all documents drawn up by the sub-committee in 
connection with the matter be sent to the various affiliated organiza- 
tions for comment. 

Although there was no open resistance to the proposed alterations, 
the replies of the affiliated societies were almost unanimous in oppos- 
ing any change regarding the name and structure of the Council. The 
abolition of affiliation especially, and the fact that the societies would 
have no representation on the Executive Council, evoked the greatest 
opposition. Even Dr Van Schalkwijk, Chairman of the Council at that 
time, considered it a serious weakness, and wrote as follows to Mr 
Marlow: 

"I was wondering whether it was wise to relegate blind societies 
to a back seat, as it were. The present National Council derives its 
origin from them, and I should be son"y to see that link weakened 
at this stage. They will continue to be the backbone of blind ser- 
vice, and for that reason their association with the Foundation 
should remain intimate." 
Although the efforts to establish a national institute or foundation 
were unsuccessful, a few important additions were made to the consti- 
tution of the Council by which the existence of the Bureau for the Pre- 



223 



vention of Blindness and the Rehabilitation Centre was legahsed. This 
meant that the Council was authorised to undertake projects of a 
national character. The amended constitution was approved at the 
thirteenth biennial meeting of Council held in October 1956. 

At the following meeting of Council held in October 1958 Mr Mar- 
low again submitted a proposal for amendments to the constitution re- 
garding the composition of the Executive Committee. Although it was 
fairly obvious after discussion that the meeting was not in favour of the 
amendments, it was nevertheless decided to refer the proposals to the 
aexecutive Committee for consideration. The Executive Committee in 
turn appointed a sub-committee to study Mr Marlow's proposals with 
the additional instruction to give attention to other aspects of the con- 
stitution. Thus the Constitution Sub- Committee was formed at a meet- 
ing of the Executive Committee held in March 1959. Later the name 
was changed to the Legal and Constitution Sub-Committee when the 
scope of its work expanded. 

The following were the first members of the Constitution Sub -Com- 
mittee: Mr G. S. Schermbrucker (Chairman), Dr L. van Schalkwijk, Mr 
A. B. W. Marlow and Dr A. W. Blaxall. 

This sub-committee was destined to play an important role with re- 
gard to future amendments to the constitution. All proposals would 
first be referred to the sub-committee for consideration, a procedure 
which facilitated all amendments to the constitution. 

Through the years certain events and circumstances taxed the insight 
and resourcefulness of the Sub- Committee to the full. Its members 
should therefore be commended for the manner in which they solved 
troublesome problems. An example of this was the amendments to the 
constitution which became necessary when the Council in accordance 
with Government policy had to make arrangements to establish separ- 
ate Divisions for Coloureds, Indians and Blacks. Another delicate mat- 
ter with which the Legal and Constitution Sub- Committee was in- 
volved was the position of affiliated societies and schools which, as a 
result of independence attained by certain states, were situated in those 
territories and thus fell beyond the borders of the Republic. 

From examination of the most recently amended form of the consti- 
tution, that of 1968, it is evident that the Council is not merely a co- 
ordinating body, although it is basically constituted by means of the 
affiliation of various organizations. It is distinctly stated in the consti- 
tution that the Council has the authority to initiate projects and to 



224 



maintain them on its own. Here we quote three paragraphs from the 
section deaHng with objectives: 

'*(vi) to initiate, develop and maintain projects for the welfare of blind 
people, where such projects can be conducted more appropri- 
ately on a national basis;" 

"(x) to manufacture, distribute, sell and deal in books, appliances and 
apparatus specially made for blind people;" 

**(xi) to take steps, by the establishment and maintenance of clinics, 
eye hospitals, or by other means, for the preservation and restor- 
ation of sight and the prevention of blindness." 
The S A. National Council for the Blind is thus empowered by its 

constitution to fill many of the gaps which still exist in its services. 
Since Mr Schermbrucker has played such an important role in the 

Council's activities, and has also rendered valuable service to the blind 

on other levels, it seems appropriate at this stage to give a short resume 

of his life and work. 

Gerald S. Schermbrucker 

Besides the services which Mr Schermbrucker has specifically rendered 
to the Council as described above, he has done a great deal to promote 
the welfare of the blind in various other fields. As a matter of fact, he is 
today still actively engaged in this, mainly in the Cape Peninsula. It can 
also be stated that he was one of the first blind persons in the country 
to have received training in physiotherapy in England, and has been 
practising the profession ever since. 

The name Schermbrucker has already appeared in this history, and 
indeed in connection with the foundation of the Council in 1929. The 
name of Mrs M. Schermbrucker, wife of the then Magistrate of Stellen- 
bosch, appeared on the list of persons who attended the Cape Town 
conference by invitation. Her interest probably arose from the fact that 
she had a blind son, Gerald, who was on the point of starting his 
career as a physiotherapist. 

Mrs Schermbrucker was referred to in the minutes on two other oc- 
casions. One was in connection with a letter which she had written to 
the Secretary of the National Council, in which she informed him that 
a Society for the Welfare of the Blind had been established at Stellen- 
bosch, and at the same time she applied for its affiliation. This was 
granted at a meeting of the Executive Committee held on 4 July 1932. 

The young Gerald was enrolled at the Worcester School for the 



225 



Blind in 1918 and had a very successful school career. The measure of 
independence which he already revealed at an early age was the result 
of a very sensible upbringing. His parents, according to his own testi- 
mony, treated him as a normal boy without any semblance of senti- 
mental over-protection. 

Initially he intended making music his vocation, but was advised 
against this by his music teacher, the well known Mr H. Greenwood. 
At that time there were already a few blind physiotherapists, who had 
been trained at St Dunstan's, working in South Africa, and he decided 
to qualify in physiotherapy. After leaving school he went to the School 
of Physiotherapy of the National Institute for the Blind in London. 
After successfully completing the course, he returned to South Africa 
in 1929. 

He first started a practice at Stellenbosch, but after a year, in 1930, 
moved to Cape Town, where he is still practising. 

When he married Miss Agnes Brown in 1942 he was already engaged 
in work for the blind. He served on the Board of Management of the 
Cape Town Civilian Blind Society at that time. Miss Brown was then 
the home teacher of the Society. Incidentally, she was the first person 
from South Africa to have completed the course in home teaching in 
England and was in possession of the certificate. Only three other per- 
sons followed. 

Mr Schermbrucker's active connection with the National Council 
began in October 1956 when he attended the biennial meeting of the 
Council as a representative of the Cape Town Society. Two years later, 
in 1958, he was elected to the Executive Committee as one of the five 
special members. The nomination of these members takes place by vir- 
tue of their expert knowledge of and interest in welfare work for the 
bhnd. 

As has already been stated, his sphere of interest is public relations 
work and matters connected with the constitution of the National 
Council. Another field in which he has made his influence felt is the 
screening of candidates for training as physiotherapists overseas. For 
many years Mr Schermbrucker played an active role in the adminis- 
tration of the S.A. Society of Physiotherapy. Shortly after commencing 
practice, in 1929, he was appointed secretary of the Western Cape 
branch of the S.A. Society of Massage and Medical Gymnastics, as it 
was then called. A few years later he was elected to the Central Govern- 
ing Board of the Society and in 1937 he accepted the editorship of the 



226 



Society's professional journal, an appointment he held until 1945 
when the Journal headquarters moved to Johannesburg. He served as 
Chairman of the local branch of the Society for approximately 30 
years, ultimately resigning in favour of the younger members. 

In addition to his activities on the level of the National Council, Mr 
Schermbrucker set himself the task of enlivening the social life of the 
blind in Cape Town and its environs. In 1955 he became Chairman of 
the Lighthouse Social Club, which had already existed since 1937. 

He immediately breathed new life into the club and also brought 
about its affiliation to the National Council. 

According to the monthly newsletters of the club an extensive pro- 
gramme is arranged for club meetings, which includes indoor games, 
recitals, lectures, musical evenings, outdoor excursions and similar 
forms of recreation. A feature of the club which makes it unique is the 
participation of sighted people in its activities. This stimulates contact 
between blind and sighted persons to the advantage of both. 

Apart from its social objectives the club also does a large amount of 
welfare work and is actively involved with the placement of blind per- 
sons in open labour. One of its activities is the organising of a monthly 
gathering of blind Blacks, where they are entertained. An interesting 
facet of the activities of the club is the annual publication of the Chris 
Guard^ Magazine under the editorship of Mr Schermbrucker, in which 
interesting and informative articles concerning the blind and by the 
blind appear. It goes without saying that Mrs Schermbrucker is also 
deeply involved in the activities and organization of the club by virtue 
of her background as a home teacher, as well as her keen interest in the 
welfare of the blind. 

Gerald Schermbrucker is well known in professional and social cir- 
cles in the Cape Peninsula. His service to society is acknowledged and 
appreciated. No wonder, then, that in 1968 the Rotary Club of Ronde- 
bosch, where he resides, presented him with an illuminated address for 
outstanding services to the community. 

Placement 

The previous chapter on employment ended with the resignation of 
Mr J. J. H. Muller as Placement Officer. He left the service of the 
Council on 6 March 1961. His successor was appointed only in 
October of that year, and six months thus elapsed without the services 
of a Placement Officer. The detrimental effect of this was emphasised 



227 



in a report by the Chairman of the Division for Employment and Re- 
habilitation for the period April to October 1961.» He writes as fol- 
lows : 

"The activities of the Division sank to a low ebb during the past 
six months. This fact must be attributed to be absence of a Place- 
ment Officer. Not only did the waiting list become excessively 
long, but research also suffered severely on this account." 
These remarks prove the indisputable necessity for an organised and 
effective placement service which should be maintained without inter- 
ruption. Since it is indeed such an exacting and specialised field, prob- 
lems arose with regard to procuring suitable candidates for the post. 

The Chairman, however, stated in the same report that the Division 
had appointed Mr F. F. Stander as Placement Officer at a meeting on 
23 September 1961. He assumed duty shortly afterwards. 

Mr Stander occupied the post until the end of 1969 and was thus the 
person to have served the Council as Placement Officer for the longest 
period up to the present. 

According to the minutes of the Division and the Chairman's re- 
ports, it would appear that Mr Stander was very active in the field of 
placement. He visited other parts of the country on various occasions, 
either to make placements himself, or to acquaint societies for the 
blind with the possibilities of employment in open labour and of as- 
sisting with placement in their own areas. When studying the Place- 
ment Officer's reports, one gains the impression that the activities con- 
nected with placement took place mostly in Pretoria and on the 
Witwatersrand, while the rest of the country received scant attention. 
The officer mentions, however, that satisfactory co-operation was re- 
ceived from other bodies such as the S.A. Blind Workers Organization 
and the Department of Labour. Nevertheless it appears that the 
amount of work in the Transvaal was so great that it was almost impos- 
sible for one person to cover the entire country. Added to this was the 
fact that virually nothing had been done in regard to the placement of 
Blacks in open labour. 

In order to combat the problem the Executive Committee, on the 
recommendations of the Division for Employment and Rehabilitation, 
decided to appoint a second placement officer who would be respon- 
sible chiefly for the placement of blind Blacks. 

Thus Mr L. S. Watson was appointed Assistant Employment Officer 
and assumed office on 1 January 1966. 



228 



Mr Watson was a blind person who had had experience of industry 
before becoming bHnd. This knowledge stood him in good stead. 

From the very beginning Mr Watson was most successful. He im- 
mediately placed a large number of workers from the workshop of the 
Transvaal Society for Blind Blacks at Ga-Rankuwa in factories in the 
surrounding area. He was assisted in this by Mr N. F. Soanes, the 
Superintendent of the workshop. 

Mr Watson, owing to the fact that he had studied psychology at a 
University, had made a comprehensive study of the problem of em- 
ployment for the blind, and had written a treatise on his deductions 
with the title: Assessment and Placement of the Blind Worker in Industry. It 
contained a series of simple efficiency tests by which could be deter- 
mined whether the candidate was suitable for a specific type of work. 
These tests could be applied especially to Blacks. The Council found 
the work of such importance that it resolved to print 1 OOQt copies for 
distribution to interested persons and organizations. 

When Mr F. F. Stander resigned from the Council's service at the 
end of 1969, Mr Watson was appointed in his place as Senior Employ- 
ment Officer. He held this post until the end of 1971 when he was 
seconded to the Transvaal Society for Blind Blacks. The reason for his 
transfer was "that he was medically unfit to carry out the strenuous du- 
ties required by the Post of Senior Employment Officer".^ 

According to reports, Mr Watson did excellent work in his new oc- 
cupation. Unfortunately he was obliged to resign in 1975 on account 
of a further deterioration in his health. His enforced disappearance 
from the scene left a much felt vacancy and was a severe setback for the 
efforts of the Council to establish an effective placement service for 
blind Blacks. 

An important occurrence in connection with sheltered employment 
and rehabilitation in this period was the study tour undertaken by the 
chairman of the Division for Employment and Rehabilitation, Mr L. 
C. Jervis, to Britain and the continent of Europe during 1966. He sub- 
mitted two reports after his return. The first dealt with rehabilitation 
and the second mainly with the organization of workshops for the 
blind. 

He visited ten centres for the rehabilitation of the visually handi- 
capped — eight in England, one in Holland, and one in Germany. His 
findings resulted in considerable changes in the rehabilitation pro- 
gramme of our own centre. 



229 



Amongst other things he stressed that placement in suitable employ- 
ment should be the ultimate aim of rehabilitation and in this regard 
mentioned the important role played by the Department of Labour in 
England. The use of leisure time should also receive attention. In 
Germany he was chiefly impressed by the purposeful training for open 
labour which inter alia included sophisticated equipment such as 
power tools, light machinery and lathes. Qualified personnel were re- 
sponsible for this intensive training. 

He concluded the report with a section on objectives in which he 
specially stressed the importance of rehabilitative training with a view 
to widening the field of employment. He stated that in order to estab- 
lish an effective rehabilitation programme and to involve a large num- 
ber of blind persons, it was essential that our rehabilitation pro- 
gramme be considerably extended. 

In connection with his study of sheltered employment, Mr Jervis 
visited seven workshops for the blind in England, one in Holland and 
one in Germany. He also expressed views on the report of a committee 
of inquiry which the British government had appointed to investigate 
matters concerning workshops for the blind. 

Mr Jervis's findings in regard to the situation in Europe were that 
the traditional avenues of employment for the blind such as the mak- 
ing of baskets and other cane work, weaving and knitting, etc., were 
not remunerative any longer, and should be gradually phased out. In 
place thereof articles should be produced which are manufactured in 
ordinary factories such as plasticware, soap products, metal compo- 
nents and so forth. 

One important aspect of the new trend in workshops for the blind is 
the importance of mechanisation. Mr Jervis therefore strongly advo- 
cated its introduction into our workshops: 

"In South Africa I advocate acceptance of the principle of mech- 
anisation, by teaching the use of power tools and machinery 
wherever that teaching can be absorbed; obviously not all blind 
people are suited to this work, or can be re-trained." 

Mr Jervis's reports form a real contribution to the philosophy of re- 
habilitation and the employment of blind persons in sheltered work- 
shops. 

As regards placement in open labour in this country, by far the grea- 
test number of blind people occupy posts as telephonists. The report of 



230 



the Employment Officer for Whites for the period April to August 
1967 can serve as an illustration: 

Of the 33 cases which had been placed during that period, 27 were 
telephonists, i.e. more than 80 per cent. The others were as follows: 3 
machine operators, one apprentice cabinetmaker (partially sighted), 
one clerk (partially sighted) and one sanitary caretaker with a munici- 
pality (partially sighted). 

In his report the employment officer (Mr F. F. Stander) stated that 
the demand for machine operators exceeded the supply. Lack of train- 
ing facilities was the reason why more persons could not be placed in 
this field. 

Concern was sometimes expressed about the large number of place- 
ments in telephony instead of in other forms of employment. The 
danger existed that on account of new developments in the construc- 
tion of switchboards, blind people might in future not be able to oper- 
ate them. Therefore representations were made to the Post Office 
authorities on various occasions to make adjustments to certain 
switchboards to enable blind persons to operate them. The Post Office 
officials were always very obliging, with the result that switchboard op- 
eration is still an important avenue of employment for people with im- 
paired sight. 

The Council and the Division were constantly concerned about 
keeping the standard of training on the highest level and ensuring that 
those who were placed in employment gave of their best to their em- 
ployers. Several conferences in connection with this were held down 
the years, the most recent having taken place on 25 January 1974. The 
subject was: "The revision of norms for the training of blind and par- 
tially sighted telephonists, and the uniform application of same." Del- 
egates from interested organizations as well as representatives of the 
General and Technical Divisions of the Post Office attended. Accord- 
ing to the minutes the Chairman, at the close of the conference, ad- 
dressed a special word of appreciation to the Post Office for its partici- 
pation with regard to the certification and employment of telephonists 
with impaired sight. 

When Mr Watson was seconded to the Transvaal Society for Blind 
Blacks on 1 December 1971, preparations were immediately made to 
fill his post at the Council. At that time Mrs A. van der Walt was the As- 
sistant Employment Officer, but she resigned shortly afterwards. At a 
meeting of the Committee^^ held on 26 February 1972 the candidature 



231 



of Mr H. B. Roux was discussed, and it was agreed that after a period 
of training at the Enid Whitaker Rehabilitation Centre the Chairman 
be authorised to make a recommendation in connection with his ap- 
pointment. This procedure was followed because Mr Roux was par- 
tially sighted and it had to be determined, as stated in the minutes: 
"whether he is able to cope with his own sight difficulty in connection 
with the work required of him". 

Mr Roux was appointed to the post of Assistant Employment Offi- 
cer and assumed duty on 22 March 1972. On 1 November 1972 he was 
promoted to Senior Employment Officer. 

In his report for the period 1 September to 31 December 1972 
(probably his first) he covered a wide field in connection with employ- 
ment, which included inter alia: 

' 'The necessity of research regarding new avenues of employment ; 
The desirability of compiling statistical data, in view of the prob- 
able establishment of new workshops; 

Report on visits to persons already placed and follow-up work 
done; 

Placements executed; 

List of cases receiving attention; 

The position with regard to the placement of non- Whites; 
Matters concerning university students; 

Recommendations to the council for the creation of more posts 
of placement officers and procedures with regard to follow-up 

work." 

Thus it is evident that Mr Roux very soon gained a clear conception 
concerning the implications of the placement of blind persons in open 
labour. 

In connection with Mr Roux's field of operation, indeed also that of 
former employment officers, the question arose as to how far he 
should be active in the rest of the country. Criticism that employment 
officers'' worked mainly in die environs of Pretoria and die Witwaters- 
rand had come from other areas. Mr Roux consequently drew up a 
programme which would include other areas as well. He visited some 
of those places, but was criticised because his visit of only a few days at 
a centre was considered too short to produce any results. The matter 
was discussed at a meeting of the Executive Committee held in May 
1972, and it was resolved that local societies or branches of the S.A. 
Blind Workers' Organization should co-operate as closely as possible 



232 



with the employment officer and refer cases to him at their discretion. 
A section of the resolution reads as follows: 

"Should the local society or branch of the Blind Workers' Orga- 
nization experience difficulties regarding the placement of the in- 
dividual concerned, a detailed report be furnished to the Em- 
ployment Officer for further investigation."' 2 
It would then be left to the discretion of the Employment Officer 
whether he considered it necessary to visit the centre in question to as- 
sist with placement. It is difficult to determine whether this arrange- 
ment produced any results. It is true* however, that very close co-oper- 
ation existed between the Committee for Rehabilitation and 
Employment and the S.A. Blind Workers Organization. In fact, the 
latter had been actively engaged with placement through the years. As 
regards the societies for the blind, it is indicated in the reports and 
minutes that visits to the various centres to render assistance and ad- 
vice, especially over a wide spectrum of placement, had indeed taken 
place. 

At a meeting of the Committee for Rehabilitation and Employment 
held on 28 September 1974 a proposal by Mr G. Schermbrucker to the 
forthcoming biennial meeting of Council was discussed in which he 
advocated the decentralisation of employment services. It was then re- 
solved to recommend to the Council that two employment officers, 
equal in status, be appointed, one for the north (Transvaal, Natal and 
the Orange Free State), and the other for the south (Cape Province). 
The locale of the latter would be Cape Town. The Council adopted this 
resolution at its twenty-second biennial meeting (October 1974). 

At that meeting it was also resolved to appoint a Southern Sub- 
Committee for Placement to advise Council and to exercise control 
over the employment services in the south. The following persons were 
appointed as members of the Southern Sub-Committee: 

Messrs H. Matthews, G. Schermbucker, H. V. Becker and C. de 
Klerk. 

The first task of the Sub- Committee was to fill the post of employ- 
ment offiicer for the south. Miss L. Cairns, who was a qualified social 
worker, was appointed and assumed duty on 1 May 1975. 

During the first two months she orientated herself in the work by 
paying visits to various centres and holding interviews with persons 
there. This took her to Worcester, Port Elizabeth and Durban. Her re- 
port indicated that she had gained a thorough knowledge over a very 



233 



wide spectrum of provision of services to the blind. In Cape Town it- 
self there was good co-operation between her, the Lighthouse Club, 
which also undertook placements, and the Division for Coloured Blind. 

When it came to definite placement, however, she did not meet with 
equal success. Her chief complaint was that the majority of blind per- 
sons who had applied for employment in open labour had no basic 
training. This impeded her efforts, and finding the situation becoming 
steadily more unsatisfactory, she relinquished the post on 4 June 1976. 

Although it was resolved not to appoint a successor to Miss Cairns, 
the Southern Sub-Committee decided that it would be better not to 
dissolve, but to keep a watch over the situation with a view to further 
possible developments. In the meantime the employment services in 
the south would be managed by Mr Graham Pitt, honorary placement 
officer of the Lighthouse Club, and Mr John Davis, Secretary of the 
Division for Coloured Blind. 

As regards the northern employment services, it should be men- 
tioned that Mr Roux resigned from his post in October 1974. After two 
other persons had filled the post for brief periods, Mr Gordon Camp- 
bell, a blind telephonist, was appointed as Placement Officer. He as- 
sumed duty on 1 July 1975. 

After a short term of orientation in which he had visited institutions 
and had conferred with experienced persons in the field he applied 
himself assiduously to his task. This is indicated in his first report 
which appeared on 1 1 August 1975 in which he gave a broad oudine of 
the conditions which prevailed at that time. Besides other activities, he 
did follow-up work with regard to recently placed persons, investi- 
gated outstanding placements, paid visits to the Johannesburg Society 
for the Blind and the Rehabilitation Centre, and discussed the situ- 
ation concerning blind Indians with the officials of the local society in 
Durban and the school in Pietermaritzburg. 

After this period of preparation he started with placements, and im- 
mediately achieved success. 

Appreciation for his services came from the Division for Indian 
Blind in terms of a resolution which had been adopted at the biennial 
meeting of the Division, held in July 1976. 

On account of the prevailing economic climate it became increas- 
ingly difficult to place blind persons in employment, especially in 1977 
and 1978. This situation is reflected in the reports of the placement of- 
ficer for those years. 



234 



Mr Campbell is still the incumbent of the post. 
Since the establishment of the Committee for Placement and the ap- 
pointment of the first placement officer, the participation of the De- 
partment of Labour in the matter was often under discussion. The 
council had made representations to the Department for the subsidisa- 
tion of the post of Placement Officer on several occasions, but it was 
repeatedly refused. The view of the Department was that officially it 
was the only body responsible for the placement of all handicapped 
persons and had the necessary machinery to perform the task. The 
Council questioned this viewpoint, and was of the opinion that the De- 
partment did not have the necessary expertise to deal successfully with 
the placement of blind persons in employment. Consequently the fol- 
lowing motion was adopted at the twenty- third biennial meeting of 
Council held in October 1976: 

"That the Department of Labour be requested to make an expert 
at the Head Office of the Department of Labour available to 
Council, with whom Council could negotiate and who could as- 
sist with the placement of the blind in open labour."^^ 
Another development was that the Executive Committee, at a meet- 
ing held in October 1976, resolved "that the Committee for Rehabili- 
tation and Placement'* be sub-divided into a Committee for Rehabili- 
tation and a Committee for Placement". 

It was also resolved that close liaison between the two committees be 
maintained by way of mutual membership of the chairmen. 

After the members of the two committees had been appointed at a 
meeting of the Executive Committee held on 23 October 1976, Mr C. 
Venter was elected Chairman of the Committee for Rehabilitation and 
Mr D. van Niekerk Chairman of the Committee for Placement. 

Concerning the question of employment for the blind, quite a num- 
ber of articles and documents had made their appearance. These were 
in the form of written addresses, reports and extensive study and re- 
search literature. As regards the latter, we can mention two. The first is 
an unpublished doctoral thesis of Jan J. de ViWiers: Blindness -a Social 
Problem (1956). The second is of more recent date: White Blind Persons 
in the Transvaal: A Socio-economic Survey of their Living Conditions (1972). 
This is a publication of the Human Sciences Research Council. The re- 
searcher was C. van den Burgh. In 1976 a similar survey was made by 
the same researcher in respect of the Indian community. It is called: 



235 



The Socio-economic position of Indian blind persons in Natal. A doctoral thesis 
by P. E. Biesenbach should also be mentioned : The tide is: Die Blinde- 
Instituut te Worcester (194^) in which the question of employment of the 
blind is dealt with. Dr Biesenbach had made a survey of the work con- 
ditions and incomes of a number of blind persons in this country. 

At the twenty- third biennial meeting of the National Council held in 
October 1976, Mr Theo Pauw, Chairman of the Council, delivered an 
informative address entitled: Placement of the Blind in South Africa. It not 
only depicts the present state of affairs with regard to employment in 
open labour, but also the trends in sheltered workshops. He stressed 
the desirability of education up to matriculation standard in all schools 
for the visually handicapped, since experience had proved that such a 
policy promotes placement in open labour. To prove this Mr Pauw 
stated "that approximately 85 per cent of the school-leavers at the 
School for the Blind at Worcester had entered open labour in recent 
years". 

As regards sheltered employment in the various workshops, he 
maintained that matters were not satisfactory everywhere. His criticism 
was directed especially at Managers and Managements of workshops 
who do not have the necessary drive and business acumen. The Man- 
agers are the specialists who should be particularly well informed con- 
cerning blindness, related employment problems, prevailing tenden- 
cies and developments in the types of work done by blind people 
elsewhere. No initiative can be expected where Managers are incapable 
or unwilling to give guidance. 

Mr Pauw ended his address by posing the following quesdon: 
"Are we prepared to sit and wait, perhaps to mark time, or will 
energedc and inspired leadership give the answer to our endea- 
vour to bring about changes for which the time is already long 
overdue.^" 

As an annexure to the address Mr Pauw gave an analysis of a survey 
he had made "to gather specific informadon and views concerning the 
present state of affairs in regard to the placement of the visually handi- 
capped". 

This survey, with the inference which can be made from it, paints no 
reassuring picture of the general economic position of our blind popu- 
ladon. Much has still to be done. The address and its annexure should 
receive the serious attendon of interested bodies such as sociedes for 



236 



the blind, managements of workshops, and the State Departments 
concerned. 



* Mr Schermbrucker has been the Chairman of the committee continuously from its inception to 
the present day, a period of almost twenty years. This is a good example of the tendency which 
existed during that period, namely that blind persons began to play an ever greater role in the 
organizations for the blind and tne National Council. 

^ Minutes of meeting of the Executive Committee held on 22-23 April 1964. Page 16. 

* Meeting of the Public Relations Committee, 24 March 1966. 

* Meeting of the Executive Committee, held 27-29 April 1966. 
5 Biennial report of Council (1974-1976), page 19. 

*• The name Institute was later changed to Foundation. 

' The magazine bears this name in memory of Miss Christine Guard who as a virtually complete 
cripple in a wheelcar gave assistance and advice to many blind and other handicapped persons. 
She learnt braille and passed the R.N.I.B. transcribers' test. For many years she was an enthusi- 
astic member of the Lighthouse Club. She died in her fortieth year in 1952. 

8 Annexure to the minutes of the meeting of the Executive Committee held 24-26 October 1961. 
The Chairman of the Division was Mr J. H. van Niekerk. 

9 Minutes of the Executive Committee Meeting of 2-4 May 1972. 

10 The name Division had in the meantime been changed to Committee. Thus: The Committee for 
Rehabilitation and Employment. 

11 At that time the official title. Later it was changed to placement officer. 

12 Minutes of the 109th meeting of the Executive Committee, page 35. 

'3 In 1978 the Department of Labour agreed to subsidise the post of Placement Officer of Coun- 
cil, under certain conditions. 

Placement had replaced the old term employment. 



237 



CHAPTER 10 



CONSOLIDATION AND FURTHER 
DEVELOPMENT ~ // 

1961 to 1979 

Before proceeding with an account of the activities of the standing 
committees it is appropriate at this stage to give a brief review of the 
situation with regard to the elected office-bearers of the Council for 
the period under review. 

After the death of Dr Louis van Schalkwijk in August 196 1 Dr Walter 
Cohen* (as previously stated) deputised as Chairman for the rest of the 
biennial term. This lasted until the following biennial meeting of the 
Council (October 1962), when he was elected Chairman, with Mr A. B. 
W. Marlow as Vice- Chairman. Mr F. A. Peters was re-elected 
Treasurer. 

Dr Cohen held the office of chairman for one term only, and was 
succeeded in October 1964 by Mr A. B. W. Marlow. Mr Theo Pauw 
was then elected Vice- Chairman and Mr Peters was once more voted 
Honorary Treasurer. 

Mr Marlow likewise held the office of Chairman for only one term, 
and was succeeded at the following election in 1966 by Mr Theo Pauw. 
Mr V. H. Vaughan was elected Vice- Chairman and Mr F. A. Peters re- 
mained Treasurer. 

With regard to the office-bearers, a pleasing aspect is the measure of 
continuity which has since set in. Mr Pauw has held the office of chair- 
man uninterruptedly for the past thirteen years. This also applies to the 
office of Treasurer, which has been held by Mr Peters since 1960. In 
fact the Council since its inception has had only three Treasurers, viz. 
Mr H. A. Tothill from 1937 to 1945, Mr D. N. Murray from 1946 to 
1960 and Mr F. A. Peters from 1960 to the present. 

Mr Vaughan remained first vice-chairman^ until 1974, when he 
was succeeded by Mr P. P. Peach. Mr E. J. J. Kruger has been second 
Vice-Chairman since 1972. 

As laid down in the constitution the Executive Committee of Coun- 
cil is at present composed of the following: 



238 



Four office-bearers (Chairman, Vice- Chairman, Deputy Vice-Chair- 

man, Treasurer) 

Five provincial representatives^ 

Five persons "elected by virtue of their knowledge and service in the 
field of blind welfare".* 

Five persons co-opted by the Executive Committee 
One representative of the Ophthalmological Society of South Africa. 
This brings the total to twenty. It should also be mentioned that 
each State Department which is a member of Council may send a re- 
presentative to meetings of the Executive Committee. However, such a 
person is not entitled to vote. 

A feature of the membership of the Executive Committee is the com- 
paratively large number of blind persons serving on it. In the early 
years the Council was concerned about the fact that so few blind per- 
sons held positions on its committees, and consequently made pro- 
vision in the constitution for the co-option of three blind persons on 
the Executive Committee. This clause was later removed from the con- 
stitution when more and more blind persons became involved in the 
activities of the Council and were in time elected members of the 
Executive Committee and the special committees. With regard to this, 
it should be mentioned that at the present time there are seven blind 
persons serving on the Executive Committee. 

As regards the special and other committees and sub-committees, 
for the moment ten of their chairmen are visually handicapped. They 
are the following: 

Public Relations Committee: Mr G. S. Schermbrucker 
Committee for Rehabilitation: Mr C. Venter 
Committee for Placement: Mr D. van Niekerk 
Committee for Literature, Education and Research: Mr E. J. J. 
Kruger 

Committee for Blind Blacks: Dr W. Cohen 

Legal and Constitution Sub-committee: Mr G. S. Schermbrucker 

Gaps in Services Sub-committee: Dr W. Cohen. 

Committee for International Relations: Dr W. Cohen. 

Sub-committee for Workshop Managers: Mr G. Hilton-Barber 

Sub-committee for Multiply Handicapped: Dr W. Cohen. 

In 1956 the constitution made provision for the election of a Presi- 
dent and two Vice-Presidents. The first appointments for these honor- 



239 



ary posts were Miss J. E. Wood as President, and Miss M. T. Watson 
and Mr H. Matthews as Vice-Presidents. In 1960 Dr A. W. Blaxall was 
elected as a third vice-president.^ After the death of Miss Wood, Mr C. 
B. Anderson was elected President. This was in 1966. He still holds the 
post today. After Dr Blaxall's departure from South Africa in 1964, 
Mrs K. D. Batde was elected Vice-President. She died in 1972, and in 
1974 Mr A. McKellar White was appointed in her place. Miss M. T. 
Watson died in 1965. Mr H. Matthews and Mr McKellar White still 
serve as Vice-Presidents of the Council. 

Committee for Literature, Education and Research 

The Committee for Braille, Education and Research concerned itself 
initially with the development of braille in the various languages of 
South Africa. When these braille systems were finally completed 
and accepted, and the field of the Committee's activities had extended, 
it was resolved to change its name to the Committee for Literature, 
Education and Research. The substitution of the term literature for 
braille indicates that the committee had received a wider assignment. It 
was now required to concern itself not only with the provision of 
literature in all three media, namely braille, tape and large type but 
also with the following: 

Matters concerning the training of blind physiotherapists; 

The granting of bursaries to students; 

Investigation into electronic and other aids for the blind; 

Control over the Central Sales Depot. 

It should be stressed, however, that matters connected with the vari- 
ous braille systems and the production of braille remained the Com- 
mittee's first priority. 

It has already been mentioned that the training of South African 
blind physiotherapists can only take place at the London School of 
Physiotherapy of the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Bursaries 
for the course are provided by the Department of National Education 
in co-operation with the Department of Labour, from funds made 
available by the Readjustment Board. ^ The bursaries cover the costs of 
the course, which lasts three years. At the beginning of the sixties the 
tuition fees rose continually and amounted to approximately R5 000 
per student for the three-year course. On account of this voices were 
raised, also by the then Department of Education, Arts and Science, to 



240 



the effect that the possibihty of training bhnd physiotherapists in this 
country should be investigated. 

The person who especially concerned himself with the matter was 
Mr E. J. J. Kruger, Chairman of the Committee for Literature, Educa- 
tion and Research. He was also a member of the Committee for Re- 
habilitation and Employment at the time. Lengthy discussions with the 
Pretoria School of Physiotherapy followed and the Transvaal Adminis- 
tration for Hospital Services eventually agreed to allow two blind stu- 
dents to enrol for the course together with the sighted students. 

On 28 January 1964 two blind students, a man and a woman, were 
admitted to the School. It was foreseen that such a new and unique 
undertaking might not be successful without certain adjustments. 
These had to be made by the students as well as by the instructors. The 
problems that presented themselves were, however, overcome in the 
case of one of the students, who completed the course successfully in 
the normal period of three years. He is Mr Martin Olivier, who at 
present follows a very successful career as a physiotherapist. Unfortu- 
nately the lady student was unable to cope with the difficulties and dis- 
continued her studies after the first year. Although great expectations 
were cherished for the training of blind physiotherapists in Pretoria, 
the project had to be abandoned, largely owing to the fact that the Pre- 
toria School of Physiotherapy had experienced serious problems with 
the enlistment of teachers. Towards the middle of the second year of 
the course, in 1965, a letter from the Transvaal Department of Hospi- 
tal Services was received in which it was stated that no blind student 
would be accepted in 1966, but that their admission might be recon- 
sidered in 1967. This did not materialize. Efforts were then made to 
arouse the interest of other institutions for the training of physio- 
therapists but without success. The result was that from 1966 blind stu- 
dents were once more obliged to go to London for their training. The 
Department of Education, Arts and Science, however, decided that in 
future only two bursaries would be granted annually instead of four. 

The question of the training of physiotherapists in this country was 
again raised by the Department of National Education in 1977, on ac- 
count of the constantly rising costs of the course in London. The Com- 
mittee for Literature, Education and Research nominated a sub-com- 
mittee to investigate the matter once more. Their conclusions were that 
circumstances had not changed and that no new efforts should be 
made to introduce such a course locally. The National Council agreed 



241 



to this, and informed the Department of National Education of its de- 
cisions. The Department then decided that in future a portion of the 
bursaries to be made available to the students would be in the form of 
loans. The Council thought this to be fair and was agreeable. 

As regards the Coloureds and Indians, the Council, in co-operation 
with other bodies, provided financially for the training of two candi- 
dates as physiotherapists in London. One of them completed the 
course and according to the latest reports he is head of the physio- 
therapy department of a university in Canada. 

The London School of Physiotherapy regularly submits progress re- 
ports of the South African students to the Council. These are then dis- 
cussed at the meetings of the Committee for Literature, Education and 
Research. In this regard it is worthy of note that over the years the 
South African students have been extraordinarily successful in their 
studies and on occasions one or other of them has been accredited as 
best student of the year from amongst students of the countries of the 
British Commonwealth of Nations. 

The National Council has introduced a bursary fund to assist per- 
sons who desire to continue their studies, especially at universities, but 
do not qualify for grants from the Readjustment Board. The assistance 
usually consists of an allocation for the acquirement of aids such as 
braille writing machines, tape recorders, typewriters, and study ma- 
terial such as books in braille and on tape. The granting of these bursa- 
ries is controlled by the Committee for Literature, Education and Re- 
search. Applications are dealt with by the Committee and after the 
merits of the case have been studied, recommendations are made to 
the Executive Committee for approval. 

Aids for the Blind 

An important task of the Committee for Literature, Education and 
Research is to obtain information concerning the numerous aids for 
the blind which are obtainable overseas so as to decide whether they 
should be purchased for distribution here. 

Illustrations and descriptions are often misleading when trying to 
assess the true value of a particular device or apparatus. Inquiries must 
then be directed to reliable international organizations. This task is 
usually undertaken by the chairman of the Committee in conjunction 
with the Director of the Council. It is an essential service, since we have 
to keep abreast of developments in this field. In cases where there is 



242 



sufficient indication that an aid can probably be utilized one only is 
imported to be tested before distribution takes place. 

Today a large variety of aids are available to blind persons, from 
simple items such as braille tags which can be sewn on to clothes to in- 
dicate the colour of the garments, to complicated electronic appliances 
such as speaking computers and inkprint reading devices. 

Most of the electronic appliances on the market are in the field of 
mobility and orientation, the reason being that the lack of free move- 
ment is one of the main restrictions of the blind. The devices are de- 
signed to warn the person of obstacles in his way, and to enable him to 
orientate himself in a specific environment. All these aids are based on 
the radar principle in which an electronic beam "picks up" the obsta- 
cles and warns the person by means of sounds. Some of these instru- 
ments are held in the hand, others are built into walking sticks or white 
canes and others even into spectacles. They have various names such as 
the laser walking stick, the infra-red radar apparatus, the microwave 
stick, the ultrasonic device and the optical walking stick. It should be 
mentioned here that the above appliances are seldom used in South 
Africa. The aids generally used for mobility in this country are the long 
cane and the guide dog. It has been proved that these are the most ef- 
fective for the blind. 

A gadget which is of real practical value to the blind telephonist is 
the so-called light probe. This instrument is used to indicate which 
light is flashing on the board so that the telephonist can dial the par- 
ticular number connected to the light. 

A device which is manufactured in several countries is the electrical 
braille typewriter. This is an ordinary typewriter with a braille unit at- 
tached to it. When it is typed upon, it produces black type and braille 
copies simultaneously. The former appears on an ordinary flat piece of 
paper and the latter on a roll. There are a few of these machines in this 
country, but they have limited usefulness. They do indeed afford 
sighted people who are unacquainted with braille the opportunity of 
corresponding with blind persons, and it is also a method by which 
blind typists can check their typing mistakes. 

There are numerous modified articles for the blind, such as braille 
watches, chess boards, needles, measuring tapes, playing cards, domi- 
noes, balls that let out a bleeping sound, and many more. 

An apparatus which is in use in various countries as a traffic sign is 
the sound signal robot. It is also known as the buzzer or the audible 



243 



robot. When the robot at a street corner changes to green the gadget 
emits a buzzing sound which stops when the traffic hght switches to 
red. This instrument was installed and tried out for a while at a busy 
street corner in Pretoria, but was eventually removed. Mention should 
also be made of two other important aids, namely the optacon and the 
speech plus calculator. 

For many years efforts have been made to invent a device which will 
enable blind people to read ordinary print. The advent of the optacon 
can therefore be considered a breakthrough in this field. The name op- 
tacon is derived from "optical to tactile conversion" and is manufac- 
tured and distributed by TSI (Telesensory Systems Incorporated, Cali- 
fornia, U.S.A.). It was initially developed by the Stanford Research 
Institute in California. 

The optacon has introduced a new reading medium for the blind. 
Although it is a slow process it enables the person to become inde- 
pendent of others for his reading. This especially applies to the pro- 
fessional man who can now read his private documents without inter- 
vention from outside. 

As previously stated, the speech plus calculator is an electronic cal- 
culator or computer which supplies the answers by means of speech 
sounds. A model which gives the answer in braille is also available. 

In 1953 the Council established a Central Depot where goods are 
sold to blind persons at a discount of fifty per cent, plus a small charge 
for administrative expenses. The depot is under the control of the 
Committee for Literature, Education and Research. An appointed sub- 
committee supervises the sales and reports to the Committee. The sub- 
committee must also advise the official in charge of the depot in con- 
nection with the buying of stock. This chiefly concerns the selections of 
the most suitable devices and articles, and the quantity which should 
be ordered. 

The Central Depot serves an excellent purpose. In his report sub- 
mitted to the National Council in October 1976, the Chairman of the 
Committee for Literature, Education and Research stated that during 
the two years following the previous meeting of the Council, the sales 
amounted to R50 926, of which the sum of R31 362 had been obtained 
from clients. It must be mentioned here that large items such as type- 
writers, tape recorders and apparatus of the calibre of the optacon, etc. 
are iiot kept in stock and are therefore not considered for discount. 



244 



Braille 

As regards braille, a period of consolidation had set in. The Afri- 
kaans braille system^ was revised by Mr J. P. van Eeden, head of the 
Worcester Braille Printing Press, and Miss C. E. Aucamp, a teacher at 
the Worcester School for the Blind, and published in 1964. With the 
advent of metrication new terms and abbreviations appeared, and 
braille equivalents had to be devised. 

Certain necessary alterations had to be made to the braille systems 
of the languages of five black population groups, namely Zulu, Xhosa, 
Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho and Tswana. Mr A. Zeelie of Braille 
Services assembled the finally amended systems in a bound manual. 

Braille Services continued with the provision of braille literature to 
blind adults, including Afrikaans books for the S.A. Library for the 
Blind at Grahamstown and books for schools for blind Blacks in the 
various braille systems. An unusual project initiated by Braille Services 
is the production of handwritten books in braille by long-term pris- 
oners. Permission was granted by the authorities to teach braille to 
selected prisoners, and the effort was so successful that within one par- 
ticular year 46 books had been transcribed. 

E. J. J. Kruger 

The name Mr E. J. J. Kruger has often been mentioned in this survey 
of the activities of the Committee for Literature, Education and Re- 
search. This is an indication of the important role he played as chair- 
man of the Committee, and is another example of the tendency which 
prevailed at the time, namely the involvement of competent blind per- 
sons in the activities of the Council. It is therefore appropriate at this 
stage to give a brief resume of his life and work. 

Ernst Jacobus Johannes Kruger completed his school career at the 
Worcester School for the Blind in 1944, when he passed the matricula- 
tion examination in the first class. He was a member of the first group 
of matriculants at the school. In 1946 he went to London to study at 
the well-known London School of Physiotherapy of the Royal 
National Institute for the Blind. In 1949 he completed the course in 
the prescribed period of three years and returned to South Africa. On 
his arrival here he immediately accepted a post as physiotherapist at 
the Johannesburg General Hospital. After years of successful service he 
joined, in 1959, the Rehabilitation Section of the Department of 
Physiotherapy of the Johannesburg General Hospital where he is still 
employed today. 



245 



When he arrived in South Africa in December 1949 the S.A. Blind 
Workers Organization (S.A.B.W.O.)* had already been functioning for 
three years. It was established in 1946 by a group of blind persons with 
the purpose of improving the working conditions of the blind, and 
opening up more avenues of employment for them. Ernst Kruger im- 
mediately felt drawn to the S.A.B.W.O. and not long afterwards was 
appointed honorary general secretary, an office he still holds to this 
day. He was the driving force behind many of the projects undertaken 
by the organisation over the years, and his untiring efforts did much to 
make them function successfully. On numerous occasions he took the 
lead when negotiations had to be conducted with bodies such as 
government departments and other authorities for furthering the cause 
of the blind. 

His most outstanding achievement must surely be the establishment 
and development of Braille Services, one of the important activities of 
the S.A.B.W.O. There was a feeling at the time that an effort should be 
made to supply more literature in braille for the adult blind person, 
since the Worcester Braille Printing Press made provision chiefly for 
the requirements of the schools. Furthermore there was an alarming 
shortage of Afrikaans books in braille for lending purposes at the S.A. 
Library for the Blind. 

The introduction and administration of such a project was to rest on 
the shoulders of Ernst Kruger. To install a complete braille printing 
press at that stage was out of the question. The costs would have been 
prohibitive. Ernst and his wife Monica (also blind) consequently 
started a Braille Transcription Service in their Hillbrow flat in 
Johannesburg. This was in 1953. Monica Kruger had an expert know- 
ledge of braille, as she had been a braillist at the Braille Printing Press 
at Worcester. She was destined to play an important role in the project. 
Initially all the transcription work was done by hand on a braille 
writer. Consequently only single copies were produced. No provision 
for duplication could be made at that time. The Krugers were fortu- 
nate in procuring the services of several other experienced braillists, 
and consequently the production could soon be stepped up consider- 
ably. 

However, Kruger visualised a more ambitious undertaking, and as a 
result of his perseverance, backed by the S.A. Blind Workers' Organi- 
zation, the original Braille Transcription Service developed into a com- 



246 



plete braille printing press for the mass production of braille literature 
in the various languages of the country. Braille Services, as it is now 
known, constitutes a very important division of the S.A. Blind Workers 
Organization. 

The first contact which Ernst Kruger had with the S.A. National 
Council for the Blind was when, as one of the representatives of the 
S.A. Blind Workers' Organization, he attended the thirteenth biennial 
meeting of the Council held in October 1956. At the same meeting he 
was elected a member of the Committee for Braille, Education and Re- 
search. In 1962 he was elected Chairman of the Committee and still 
holds that office at the present day. He also serves on several other 
special committees of the Council, and he is often appointed to ad hoc 
committees or sub-committees to investigate specific matters. As 
shown in the records of Council he has played a major part in the af- 
fairs of the National Council, and in 1972 he was honoured by being 
elected to the office of Second Vice- Chairman, a post he still holds 
today. 

His main interest, however, lies with the S.A. Blind Workers' Orga- 
nization, and especially with Braille Services. When any further de- 
velopment becomes necessary, Ernst Kruger is always in the forefront 
to do the spadework. As the Honorary Director of Braille Services as 
well as the Honorary General Secretary of the S.A. Blind Workers Or- 
ganization he bears a heavy responsibility, and his spare time is fully 
occupied. Besides these commitments he is also the editor of Braillo- 
rama, a monthly magazine in braille which is printed and distributed 
by Braille Services. This work he also has to do in his spare time, as he 
is in the permanent service of the Transvaal Department of Hospital 
Services. 

In recognition of his long service as physiotherapist a merit award 
was presented to him on 30 October 1978 by the Department of Hos- 
pital Services of the Transvaal. 

His life is an example of service to his community. 

Committee for the Partially Sighted 

Up to the year 1956 the term blind alone appeared in the constitution 
of the National Council. Nowhere was there any reference to partial 
sight. In spite of this we find that the Council concerned itself most 
definitely with the partially sighted, for already at the third biennial 
meeting of Council held in 1935 it was resolved to make representa- 



247 



Mrs E. Verwoerd, wife of the former Prime Minister, Dr H. F. Verwoerd at the opening ceremony 
of the new buildings of the Prinshof School for the Partially Sighted on 19 May 1967. With her is 
Mr P. P. Peach, Principal. 




Group of blind members of the Executive Committee, 1960-1962. Messrs Gerald Schermbrucker, 
Ernst Kruger, Miss Enid Whitaker, Dr Walter Cohen, Mr Jan van Niekerk. 



248 



tions to the authorities for the provision of education for partially 
sighted children. Shortly after the foundation of the Council in 1929 
serious consideration was also given to taking effective measures for 
the prevention of blindness. This therefore implied a system for the 
provision of services to persons who were partially blind, or expressed 
differently, partially sighted. 

When the constitution was revised in 1956 a clause containing a defi- 
nition of blindness was inserted for the first time. This was retained in 
the amended constitution of 1968 which is in use today. The definition 
reads as follows: 

The term "Blind" shall mean totally or partially or intermittently 
deprived of sight. 

In clause 3(xi) of the constitution it is very definitely stated that 
one of the objectives of the Council is . . the preservation and restor- 
ation of vision and the prevention of blindness". 

It can therefore be deducted that the Council and its committees 
were thereby enjoined to promote the interests of partially sighted per- 
sons as well. 

The Committee for the Partially Sighted, as a separate special com- 
mittee, developed from a sub-committee which had been appointed by 
t^e Committee for Literature, Education and Research with the in- 
junction to study the question of the employment of partially sighted 
pupils who had passed the matriculation examination. The sub-com- 
mittee comprised the following: Mr E.J.J. Kruger (chairman), Mr P. 
P. Peach, Dr W. Cohen and Mr V. H. Vaughan. 

The sub-committee met on 15 June 1968 and according to the 
minutes it did not confine itself strictly to its terms of reference, but 
covered a fairly wide field in connection with the problems of the par- 
tially sighted. 

Firstly much attention was given to the definition of impaired sight, 
and extracts from the Van Schalkwijk report^ were extensively quoted. 
Furthermore general problems connected with the rehabilitation, edu- 
cation and placement of partially sighted school-leavers and adults 
were discussed. 

Finally it was resolved to recommend that a standing committee for 
the partially sighted be appointed. The Committee for Literature, Edu- 
cation and Research placed the matter before the biennial meeting of 
the National Council in October 1968. The Council approved the es- 
tablishment of such a committee and the Executive Committee nomi- 



249 



nated the following persons as members: 

Mr P. P. Peach (Principal of the Prinshof School for the Partially 
Sighted, Pretoria) 

Mr L. N. F. Pretorius (former secretary of the Bureau for the Pre- 
vention of Blindness and at present Director of the Transoranje 
Institute for Special Education) 

Mr E. J. J. Kruger (Chairman of the Committee for Literature, 
Education and Research) 

Mr V. H. Vaughan (Vice- Chairman of the National Council) 
At the first meeting of the Committee for the Partially Sighted, held 
on 8 March 1969, Mr P. P. Peach was elected Chairman. He gave a 
brief outline of the task of the Committee, which would basically in- 
clude the following: 

(1) Determining the norms for blindness and partial sight; 

(2) Investigating the problems connected with training and 
placement; 

(3) Revising the approach to services for the partially sighted. 
After a brief discussion on these matters, it was realised that the 

functions of the Committee would be far more extensive than had been 
anticipated, since all aspects of partial sight would have to receive at- 
tention. 

After the Committee had been properly constituted, it was decided 
to co-opt persons from a wide field, so that all possible facets con- 
nected with partial sight could be covered. Since a criterion for partial 
sight would be drawn up, and medical and optometrical matters 
should receive attention, it was decided to co-opt an ophthalmic sur- 
geon and an optometrist. For matters relating to care and employ- 
ment, the Departments of Labour and Social Welfare and Pensions 
were approached to nominate representatives on the Committee. 
Moreover, considering that impaired vision is also present among pu- 
pils in ordinary schools, the Provincial Departments were invited to 
send one representative each. Seeing that the education of the partially 
sighted child is the responsibility of the Department of National Edu- 
cation, the latter was requested to appoint its Inspector of Special 
schools to the Committee. It was later decided to approach other bo- 
dies such as the Optometric Society, the Human Sciences Research 
Council and the Department of Health of the City Council of Pretoria. 

The first task of the Committee was to find a satisfactory and effec- 
tive definition for the broad term partial sight. With regard to this the 



250 



problem arose that in the Blind Persons Act the term "partially blind" 
is used. Furthermore the term "blind" is defined in detail (with a view 
to the registration of blind persons) but there is no definition for the 
term "partially blind". The State Department which is responsible for 
the implementation of the Act could throw no light on the matter. It 
was then assumed that "partially blind" fell within the cadre of the 
blind for registration purposes. Therefore, in terms of the definition of 
blindness as laid down in the Act, a person may have some degree of 
sight and still qualify for registration. It should be mentioned here that 
the term "partially blind" (apart from the Act) is not in general use 
today. The emphasis is laid rather on the person's residual sight and he 
is consequently designated as partially sighted. 

The Committee was set on finding a definition for partial sight 
which would be acceptable to the authorities, for its main objective 
was the registration of partially sighted persons, as in the case of the 
blind. In the first place it would indicate the incidence of partial sight 
in the Republic, and secondly it would pave the way to procure certain 
specified privileges and concessions for this group of visually handi- 
capped persons. 

The idea of registration of the partially sighted, however, did not 
find acceptance with the authorities. Nevertheless the Committee's re- 
presentations to the Department of Labour to admit a certain number 
of partially sighted persons to workshops for the blind met with a 
measure of success. 

The Committee had, among other things, made extensive efforts to 
obtain reliable information in connection with the number of pupils in 
the schools of the Republic (White, Indian and Coloured) who suffered 
from some form of visual impairment. A pamphlet containing infor- 
mation on visual problems in general, together with a Snellen Chart 
and a form to be completed, were sent to schools in three provinces, as 
well as to schools under the Departments of Indian and Coloured Af- 
fairs. 

After the data received had been collated and analysed, it appeared 
that approximately seven per cent of the children suffered from visual 
defects. Negotiations with possible candidates for schools for the par- 
tially sighted then took place. Irrespective of the reaction which was re- 
ceived the Committee was of the opinion that useful information had 
been circulated to the schools regarding visual problems amongst chil- 
dren in general and the modus operandi to be followed by teachers. 



251 



Furthermore, as regards the education of the visually handicapped, 
the Committee made the necessary representations to the authorities 
for the establishment of guidance clinics at schools for the visually 
handicapped. The Department of National Education approved of the 
project in principle, but on account of financial circumstances it could 
not be put into operation. At such clinics parents would be enlightened 
concerning the education and treatment of their children. 

An important project initiated by the committee, at least as far as 
Pretoria was concerned, was the locating and identifying of pre-school 
children with visual problems. After representations had been made to 
the City Council of Pretoria its Health Department under the direction 
of the Chief Medical Officer of Health carried out eye examinations on 
all children in nursery schools in the city and made the data available 
to the Committee. Efforts to introduce this project to other large 
centres were unsuccessful. 

A problem with which the committee had to contend in connection 
with training and placement, especially that of matriculants, was the 
training of physiotherapists. A knowledge of braille was a requisite for 
admission to the London School of Physiotherapy. This was a stum- 
bling block, as pupils in a school for the partially sighted use ordinary 
or large type books. Problems were also encountered with the enrol- 
ment of partially sighted students in ordinary schools for physio- 
therapy in this country, on account of their defective sight. The Com- 
mittee was constantly concerned with placement. On several occasions 
reports of the valuable assistance given by the Department of Labour 
with regard to the placement of partially sighted persons were re- 
ceived. 

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) was in many ways of 
great assistance to the Committee. At the present time one of their re- 
search officers is engaged in making a study of visual aids for partially 
sighted persons. The HSRC has always been prepared to undertake 
any research project in the field of the partially sighted. 

The following is an extract from the report of the Chairman of the 
Committee for the Partially Sighted which was submitted to the 
twenty-third meeting of the National Council, held in October 1976. It 
is a concise description of the objectives and activities of the Commit- 
tee: 

"An important function of the Committee which also produced 



252 



excellent results during this period was the bringing together of 
the various bodies and disciplines with a view to liaison, consulta- 
tion and the co-ordination of services and activities. Bodies such 
as the Department of National Education and the various Provin- 
cial Departments of Education, the HSRC, and other State De- 
partments as well as the disciplines of ophthalmology, optome- 
try, education and psychology could discuss matters concerning 
the partially sighted, and could devote fruitful attention to certain 
troublesome and perplexing problems." 

Committee for Gaps in Services 

Over the years the National Council had made regular attempts to 
bridge the gaps and deficiencies which existed in the services. The 
Council's concern was caused firstly by the fact that the entire country 
was not geographically covered by its affiliated societies, and secondly 
that all aspects of welfare did not receive the necessary attention. 
Therefore we find that as early as March 1931, at a meeting of the 
Executive Committee, serious thought was given to the problems ex- 
perienced by those blind people who resided in remote districts be- 
yond the area of activities of any affiliated society. The minutes of the 
meeting read as follows: 

"After a long discussion it was agreed that the Executive Commit- 
tee accept the idea of Outpost Officers being appointed by the 
nearest Civilian Blind Society in those places where there is no 
other Welfare Society or Association." 
The matter was brought forward and the resolution taken as a result 
of information gained from a questionnaire which had been sent by 
the Organising Secretary to affiliated societies, welfare organizations, 
church communities, magistrates' offices and other interested bodies 
and individuals with a view to compiling statistics and other data con- 
cerning the blind. When collating the answers returned, the Organis- 
ing Secretary found that the reaction from the affiliated and associated 
organizations was not satisfactory. This raised the question of the de- 
marcation of areas so as to ensure that the whole country should be 
covered as far as blind welfare work was concerned. Therefore we find 
that in the minutes of the first biennial meeting of the Council, held in 
March 1931, the following appeared under the heading Delimitation 
of Areas: 

"Mrs Buder-Smith*^ wished to know whether the Executive Com- 



253 



mittee would consider the advisability of designating areas for the 
various societies to operate in." 
The Chairman of the Council (Adv. R. W. Bowen) reacted to this by 
stating that the Executive Committee was of the opinion that such a 
step would be unwise, since each affiliated society should be free to de- 
cide in which area it chooses to operate. 

This reluctance to allocate specific areas to societies often created 
problems and placed societies in difficult situations. In the early fifties 
when the present writer was a member of the Northern Cape Society 
for Civilian Blind in Kimberley, requests for assistance were often re- 
ceived from beyond the geographical boundaries of the area, such as, 
for example, from Springbok and other districts south of the Orange 
River. When an application for aid came from as far as Beaufort West, 
the secretary of the Society addressed a letter to the Cape Town Civ- 
ilian Blind Society to ascertain how far the area of its activities ex- 
tended. The answer was that they were confined to the Western Cape. 
It appears therefore that the activities of each society for the blind in 
this country are determined by its Board of Management, which does 
not mean that the entire country is geographically provided for. 

This state of affairs was one of the reasons why Mr A. B. W. Marlow 
and other members of the Executive Committee exerted themselves in 
1953 to 1956 for transforming the National Council into an Institute 
or Foundation. One of the clauses of the proposed new constitution 
stipulated that the country should be divided into six or seven regions, 
each with an office and administration of its own which would in turn 
be responsible to the Council's head office in Pretoria. These recom- 
mendations as previously mentioned met with litde success, but in the 
amendments to the constitution which followed in 1956 Council was 
granted greater powers and was entrusted with more duties in order to 
ensure a more comprehensive service. This, however, did not result in 
the whole country being served by the existing societies and associ- 
ations. 

The Organising Secretary was subsequently commissioned to distri- 
bute circulars for the purpose of obtaining information regarding the 
work area of each affiliated society. The data, after being collated, in- 
dicated that large geographical gaps still existed. 

It must be mentioned, however, that the S.A. Blind Workers Orga- 
nization, which operates country-wide, renders a very important 
national service in connection with welfare work for the blind. They 



254 



have over the years filled many existing gaps, but their programme is 
limited to certain aspects of service only. The League of Friends of the 
Blind should also be mentioned here. This body renders an important 
service to blind Coloured persons through its various branches. There 
are other bodies which play an active part on a national basis, such as 
the S.A. Library for the Blind and the S.A. Guide Dog Association, but 
they are specialist organizations, which deal with certain specific as- 
pects of service. 

The decision to establish a Sub- Committee for Gaps in Services for 
the Blind by the Executive Committee on 6 February 1973 had its 
origin in October 1969 when the matter was fully discussed at a meet- 
ing of the Executive Committee. The relevant paragraph in the minutes 
reads as follows: 

''Gaps existing in the coverage of blind welfare services in the country: 
The recommendation that a sub-committee be set up to investi- 
gate this matter with a view to making recommendations in con- 
nection with those areas in South Africa which did not fall within 
the jurisdiction of any civilian blind society was discussed and it 
was resolved that it be left to Head Office to make a thorough in- 
vestigation into this matter and to submit a report to the next 
meeting of the Executive Committee."*^ 
A report on this investigation was submitted to the meeting of the 
Executive Committee held from 15 to 17 April 1970. From its contents 
can be inferred that the questionnaire which had been sent out was cir- 
culated mainly with the intention of gaining information about the 
areas covered by the various affiliated societies. The report clearly 
showed that large areas of the country were not covered by any society. 

In the discussion which followed it was felt that "a more compre- 
hensive investigation in connection with the services to the blind 
should be undertaken throughout the Republic". 

The matter received attention again only after a year had elapsed. At 
a meeting of the Executive Committee held in April 1971 a sub-com- 
mittee with Dr W. Cohen as convener was appointed to study the re- 
plies received to further questionnaires which had been sent to affili- 
ated societies. 

According to the minutes this sub-committee met on 12 October 
1971. Interesting information in connection with gaps in services to the 
blind came to light at a meeting of the Executive Committee held 27- 
28 October 1972. According to the minutes Dr Cohen reported "that 



255 



he had ascertained that the branch of the Blind Workers Organization 
in the Eastern Cape had discovered 214 blind people who were totally 
unaware of the services which existed for blind persons". 

It was then decided that a meeting of the sub-committee should be 
called to give attention to the matter, and also to request Miss Hazel 
Smith of the Eastern Cape branch of the Blind Workers Organization 
"to make known the methods which had been used during this sur- 
vey". The seriousness of the situation was further stressed when Miss 
Smith, at a meeting of the Executive Committee held in April 1973, 
pointed out that the Eastern Cape branch of the S.A.B.W.O. served the 
interests of 450 blind persons, and said she expected that the Council 
would be approached for assistance. 

Besides the sub-committee which was appointed to investigate gaps 
in services, there also existed a sub-committee to study the most effec- 
tive means by which the interests of the blind in South West Africa 
could be served. A joint meeting of these two committees was held on 6 
February 1973 and again on 24 August 1973. It appears that these two 
sub-committees merged eventually. 

The first meeting of the Sub-Committee for Gaps in Services took 
place on 7 February 1974. Since Dr W. Cohen was the chairman of the 
abovementioned joint sub-committee, he proceeded to act as chair- 
man of the new sub-committee. The other members were: Dr J. J. 
Fourie, Messrs E. J. J. Kruger and L. C. Jervis, and Miss H. Smith (co- 
opted). 

It was reported at the meeting that an extensive project for tracing 
blind people had been set in motion by the Head Office of the Coun- 
cil. A large number of letters had been sent to interested organizations 
and individuals of all population groups, with the request that they 
provide head office with the following information: 

"The full name and address of the person, population group 
under which he is classified, age, or as near as possible, problems 
which arise as a result of his handicap, or any other information 
of importance." 

It was also decided to co-operate with the S.A. Blind Workers Orga- 
nization in order to eliminate the overlapping of names. 

The reaction to the letters was unsatisfactory. This is understandable 
since the incidence of blindness in any given area is not high, and in 
several country towns or districts there would be no blind persons resi- 



256 



dent. It is interesting, however, that the most satisfactory answers came 
from Magistrates and Town Clerks. 

Dr Cohen, the Chairman, sketched the task of the sub-committee at 
its first meeting, and informed members that he had decided to start 
with the activities of the various societies. He therefore invited three 
members of the Board of Management of the Pretoria Civihan Bhnd 
Society to attend. 

Problems in connection with gaps which existed in the various areas 
of Northern, Western and Eastern Transvaal were fully discussed. This 
was also done with regard to the Witwatersrand and Southern Trans- 
vaal where the Johannesburg Society|tO|Help Civilian Blind was enlgaged. 

A matter which was considered a first priority by the Committee was 
the drawing up of a brochure in which full information concerning the 
activities of the S.A. National Council for the Blind and its affiliated 
societies would be given. Immediate attention was given to this and a 
draft copy of the brochure was ready for discussion at the next meeting 
of the Sub- Committee, held 3 May 1975. It had been drawn up by Dr 
Cohen in collaboration with the staff of Head Office. After it had been 
submitted to the Executive Committee for approval it was printed and 
distributed. 

After this the Sub- Committee met approximately twice yearly, and a 
large number of diverse matters concerning provision of services was 
dealt with. It served the interests of all population groups, and from 
September 1975 the secretaries of the Divisions for Indian and 
Coloured Blind also attended the meetings. 

According to the minutes of the various meetings, divergent matters 
occupied the attention of the Committee, such as for example tapes in 
Indian languages, facilities for blind Blacks in Qwaqwa, a prospective 
workshop in Gazankulu, a code for social workers, matters concerning 
blind persons with multiple handicaps, the expansion of mobility in- 
stuction, assistance received from service clubs such as Lions Inter- 
national, problems and gaps in regard to workshop practices, a discus- 
sion of a circular from the Department of Statistics regarding a census 
which will be held in 1980, the role of Imfama as a medium for dis- 
tributing information, the establishment of a planning committee, the 
compiling of a register of vocations for the blind, and the like. 

The Sub- Committee for Gaps in Services is very active and covers a 
wide field. In so doing it performs a valuable service by drawing atten- 
tion to the gaps and shortcomings which exist in the provision of ser- 



257 



vices throughout the country. This in itself should act as an incentive to 
affiliated societies, as well as the Council through its Special Commit- 
tees, to render even better and more widespread services to the blind 
who are in need of them. 

Committee for International Affairs 

The importance of international contacts was already realised in 1881 
when the first person from South Africa was sent to Europe to study 
the education of the blind. He was Mr B. J. G. de la Bat, principal des- 
ignate of the newly established Deaf and Blind Institute at Worcester. 
Although this mission was aimed mainly at the education of the deaf, 
he was also commissioned to give attention to the education of the 
blind. This was the beginning of a steady stream of visitors to overseas 
countries to study the various facets of services to the blind. Not long 
after Mr De la Bat's visit, namely in 1890, Mr M. J. Besselaar, the then 
vice-principal of the Institute, went to Holland on a study tour. In 
1907 he visited Europe again to attend two congresses concerning the 
blind, in London and Hamburg respectively. Mr J. P. (Piet) Krugerwas 
the first blind person from South Africa to travel abroad. In 1905 he 
attended a conference in Edinburgh, Scodand, and another in 191 1 in 
Exeter, England. He travelled alone. On both occasions he visited 
schools and was the first person to introduce the round knitting ma- 
chine into South Africa. Smilarly Dr P. E. Biesenbach, principal of the 
Worcester School for the Blind, also undertook comprehensive over- 
seas study tours in 1928 and 1939. 

The first overseas contact which the National Council made was in 
1931 when Rev. A. W. Blaxall attended an international conference for 
the welfare of the blind in New York. He had received a Carnegie grant 
for this purpose and the Council made an additional contribution to 
enable him to visit various institutions. This conference was the fore- 
runner of the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind, which was 
founded after the Second World War. In this connection we quote the 
following from the report of the conference of the WCWB which was 
held in Brazil in 1974:*^ 

"The international aspect of blind welfare dates from 1931, when 
a conference, attended by delegates from more than 30 countries, 
was held in New York. That conference led to a desire for a per- 
manent international organization, which would maintain liaison 
between all working in the field of blind welfare." 



258 



In his report to the National Council after his return, Rev. A. W. 
Blaxall stated that an International Bureau for work amongst the Blind had 
been established at the conference and that he had made an announce- 
ment there that the S.A. National Council for the Blind would readily 
affiliate to that body. Mr Blaxall's action was confirmed by the Execu- 
tive Committee of Council.^* It should therefore be placed on record 
that the S.A. National Council for the Blind can be considered to be a 
founder member of the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind, al- 
though the latter, after years of delay, was founded only in 1949. Inter- 
national events on the political scene were evidently responsible for 
this. 

Among several recommendations made by Mr Blaxall, there were 
two which deserve to be mentioned. One of them led to the sending of 
a person overseas to be trained as in instructor in various trades for the 
blind. He was Mr G. H. Biesenbach, who held the post of vocational 
instructor at the Worcester School for the Blind. Mr Biesenbach spent 
fifteen months in England at various institutions. It is interesting to 
note that Mr Biesenbach in his report advocated inter alia the admis- 
sion of partially sighted persons to workshops, a matter which only 
came into effect many years later. The minutes of the meeting of the 
Executive Commitee held on 22 June 1934 read as follows: 

"Mr Biesenbach felt that the exclusion of partially blind workers 
from workshops for the blind in South Africa was unjust and he 
expressed the hope that they would soon be given the same assis- 
tance and chances as the totally blind." - 

In his second recommendation Mr Blaxall advocated a comprehen- 
sive reorganization of the National Council. It would appear that he 
was of the opinion, shared by Mr A. B. W. Marlow much later in 1953, 
that the mere co-ordinating function of the Council did not leave 
much room for a complete and effective system of service to the blind 
in this country. As a matter of interest, the following passage from the 
minutes is quoted below: 

"With reference to Mr Blaxall's recommendation with regard to 
the reorganisation of the Constitution of the Council, the division 
of the Union into districts each with central depots under the 
control of locally appointed committees, etc. etc., it was felt that 
the matter had better be left in abeyance at present pending the 
next meeting of Council in 1933." 



259 



This matter was not raised at the biennial meeting of the Council in 
1933, nor at the following one. 

In the years that followed it was Dr L. van Schalkwijk especially who 
on his official departmental visits overseas undertook specified tasks 
on behalf of the National Council. Thus we find that Dr Van Schalk- 
wijk represented the National Council at the first conference of the 
World Council for the Welfare of the Blind in Paris in 1954.^^ The facts 
concerning this meeting were recorded in the abovementioned report 
of the WCWB's latest conference as follows: 

"After the Second World War the United Kingdom sought a re- 
sumption of international co-operation on the New York scale (of 
1931), and in spite of the difficulties of the post-war years, a con- 
ference on 'The Place of the Blind in the Modern World' was held 
at Oxford in 1949, at which Europe and North America were 
represented. Once again, the desire for a permanent council was 
strongly expressed. "^^ 
The result of this was that in 1951 a committee met in Paris in order 
to draft a constitution for an international organization. In this way 
the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind was brought into being, 
and it was resolved that its first meeting would be held in Paris in 1954. 
Thereafter conferences were held in 1959 in Rome, in 1964 in New 
York, in 1969 in New Delhi and in 1974 in Sao Paulo. The next confer- 
ence is scheduled for 1979 in Lagos, Nigeria.^' 

The National Council has been represented at all the conferences of 
the World Council up to the present, with the exception of the one 
held in New Delhi in 1969, when its two official representatives, Dr W. 
Cohen and Mr V. H. Vaughan, were refused permission to enter India. 
The Council was, however, represented by Mr C. M. Bassa, who at- 
tended as an observer. 

Since the foundation of the World Council for the Welfare of the 
Blind, South Africa has played a significant role in its activities. 
Already at the first meeting in 1954 in Paris Dr L. van Schalkwijk was 
elected as chairman of a committee for the rural blind. In this capacity 
he was a member of the Executive Committee of the World Council. 

In July 1959 Dr L. van Schalkwijk and Mrs F. Blaxall (who was over- 
seas at that time) represented the Council at the second conference of 
the World Council which was held in Rome. 

At the following conference, which was held in New York in 1964, 
the National Council was exceptionally honoured in that both its rep- 



260 



resentatives were elected to committees. Dr W. Cohen was elected 
chairman of the World Braille Council and Mr S. K. Wentworth, Gen- 
eral Secretary of the National Council, was appointed a member of 
the Committee for the Prevention of Blindness. In his report Mr Went- 
worth said "that the reason for this is simply because the Council's Bu- 
reau for the Prevention of Blindness has achieved world-wide recog- 
nition for its work in the Republic . . . The Bureau's work is a 
blueprint for work in many parts of the world". 

As regards the 1969 conference of the World Council, which was 
held in New Delhi, it may be mentioned that although Dr Cohen had 
been prevented from attending, he was nevertheless in his absence 
again elected Chairman of the World Braille Council. In 1972 he at- 
tended the meeting of the Executive Committee of the World Council 
in Moscow. 

With regard to the World Braille Council another important inter- 
national contact should be mentioned. In December 1951 the Concul- 
tative Committee on Braille was convened by the Director- General of 
UNESCO^* with the purpose of establishing a World Braille Council. 
Mr V. H. Vaughan was invited to this meeting, which was held from 
10-12 December 1951 in Paris. Fifteen braille experts, representative of 
the different regions of the world, attended. 

At the meeting statutes were drawn up to be presented to the Direc- 
tor-General of UNESCO for the establishment of "an advisory com- 
mittee called the World Braille Council (WBC)".''^ After this had been 
approved the committee remained under the control of UNESCO 
until 1954, when it became a committee of the World Council for the 
Welfare of the Blind. It can therefore be said that South Africa was a 
founder member of the World Braille Council. 

The fifth conference of the World Council for the Welfare of the 
Blind was held in 1974 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The official representatives 
of the National Council were Mr Theo Pauw and Dr W. Cohen. Dr J. J. 
Fourie and Mr C. M. Bassa were present as observers. In the printed 
report of the Conference or J. W. Cookey-Gram, Chairman of the 
Committee for Africa Affairs, wrote as follows: 

"This report will not be complete without expressing my grati- 
tude and appreciation to the South African National Council for 
the Blind through Dr W. Cohen and the Union of the Blind of 
Tunisia through Mr M. Rajhi, its Secretary- General, for their ef- 



261 



fort in keeping in regular touch with the Secretariat of the African 
Regional Committee."^® 

Dr Cohen is a member of this committee. An important resolution 
which was carried at this meeting of the World Council was for the es- 
tablishment of an International Agency for the Prevention of Blind- 
ness. The first meeting of this organization took place in July 1978 in 
Oxford, England. The representatives of the National Council were Mr 
W. Rowland and Mr C. M. Bassa. 

Another important organization, chiefly aimed at education, in 
which South Africa has actively taken part since its inception, is the In- 
ternational Council for the Education of the Visually Handicapped 
(I.C.E.B.Y.), formerly named the International Council of Educators 
of Blind Youth (I.C.E.V.H.). This organization also sprang from the 
Conference which was held at Oxford in 1949 to which we have pre- 
viously referred. 

The first conference of the International Council of Educators of 
Blind Youth was held in Bussum, Holland, at the "Instituut tot Onder- 
wijs van Blinden" from 25 July to 2 August 1952. Mr A. B. W. Marlow, 
then principal of the Athlone School for the Blind in Bellville, Cape 
Town, was the representative of the S.A. National Council for the 
Blind. Since then five-yearly conferences were held at the following 
venues: Oslo (1957), Hanover (1962), Watertown, U.S.A. (1967), Ma- 
drid (1972), Paris (1977). South Africa was represented at all these con- 
ferences. 

It was at the Hanover conference in 1962 that the South African del- 
egates started playing an active role in the proceedings of the confer- 
ences and in the organization. At that meeting Mr Theo Pauw acted as 
leader of one of the group sessions. Mr V. H. Vaughan was elected to 
the Executive Committee as well as to the editorial board of the Educa- 
tor, the journal of I.C.E.V.H. In 1967 at Watertown Mr Pauw was 
elected to the Executive Committee as the Africa representative, replac- 
ing Mr Vaughan. Mr Pauw still serves on the Executive Committee and 
is responsible for a column on the deaf-blind in the Educator. At the 
conference held in Madrid in 1972, the South African contingent con- 
sisted of eight delegates, amongst whom was the director of the 
National Council, Mr W. P. Rowland. At this meeting Mr Theo Pauw 
officiated as group-leader on several occasions and Mr Vaughan as 
chairman at a plenary session. At the Paris conference, held in 1977, 
the South African delegation consisted of Mr Theo Pauw, Mr P. P. 



262 



Peach, Mr B. C. Nursoo, Principal of the New Horizon School, Pieter- 
maritzburg, and Mr J. R. Solms, Principal of the Athlone School for 
the Blind. 

It stands to reason that when persons attend conferences overseas 
they will also avail themselves of the opportunity to undertake study 
tours in order to increase their knowledge, and to build up further in- 
ternational contacts to the benefit of the work. 

Neighbouring States 

We now come to another from of international contact. Whereas we 
have up to the present confined ourselves to visits overseas with the ob- 
ject of availing ourselves of the knowledge and experience which coun- 
tries abroad could offer, and where we were at the receiving end only, 
we now report on another aspect of the matter, namely the efforts 
which we in South Africa have been making to render assistance and 
convey knowledge to neighbouring states. Since this aid had increased 
considerably over the years it became necessary to organise and con- 
trol it. A committee was therefore appointed to bring this about. In- 
itially it was called: Committee on Aid to Neighbouring States. Later 
the name was changed to: Committee for International Relations. Be- 
fore reviewing the activities of the Committee, we may mention here 
that aid to neighbouring and indeed states much further north had 
already been rendered by the Worcester School for the Blind since the 
forties. For example, there had always been close contact with a school 
in Rhodesia to which assistance had regularly been given. Visits were 
also paid reciprocally. During the Second World War a large quantity 
of braille music was supplied to blind artists who performed in various 
parts of Africa, such as the then Belgian Congo (Zaire today) and even 
as far as Egypt, where a blind musician had difficulty in obtaining 
braille music. 

In this regard it should also be recorded that the S.A. Library for the 
Blind had for many years sent books on loan to blind readers in neig- 
bouring countries. In the 1944 report of the library the following was 
entered : 

"We have readers in all parts of the Union and a few scattered in 
Rhodesia, Kenya, South West Africa, Gambia, Nyasaland^^ and 
Mauritius." 

In connection with the National Council itself, we find that the 
Executive Committee, at its 109th meeting held 2-4 May 1972 ap- 
proved a recommendation that certain articles from the central depot. 



263 



up to a sum of RlOO, be donated to St Joseph's Mission in Swaziland, 
on condition that the Welfare Board agreed that the funds of the 
Council could be used for the provision of services to the blind in 
neighbouring countries. It w^as reported at the next meeting of the 
Executive Committee (October 1972) that no objections had been 
raised by the authorities, and that Council could proceed with the ren- 
dering of aid to neighbouring states. Consequently St Joseph's Mission 
in Swaziland was the first institution to be thus served. 

In tinie requests for aid gained momentum, and it became clear that 
the National Council had a task to fulfil in this respect. Not only were 
requests for material assistance received, but information was also 
sought in connection with administrative affairs, and with matters such 
as the registration of blind persons and education of blind children. 

The question later arose as to whether we should wait for requests 
for aid to come forward, or whether we should ourselves proceed to 
investigate the circumstances in neighbouring countries. Dr W. Cohen 
pointed out that the Africa Committee of the World Council for the 
Welfare of the Blind looked to South Africa to investigate the entire 
question of aid to developing countries, and to give assistance where it 
was required. 

In the meantime the Director visited Rhodesia, the Public Relations 
Officer paid a visit to Swaziland, and the Chairman of Council under- 
took a tour through Malawi. 

When the question of overseas contacts was again discussed at a 
meeting of the Executive Committee held on 29 April to 1 May 1974, 
the following resolution was adopted: 

"(i) That an Ad Hoc Comittee be appointed to investigate the 
question of possible liaison with blind welfare organizations 
in neighbouring states and to submit a report to the Execu- 
tive Committee; 

(ii) That initial steps in connection with obtaining information 
from embassies in South Africa be taken administratively; 

(iii) That the committee consist of Dr Cohen, Mr Jervis and the 
Public Relations Officer with Dr Cohen as convener, to 
whom it will be left to convene a meeting." 

According to the minutes of the meeting of the Executive Committee 
held 21-22 October 1974, the implementation of the instructions as 
contained in paragraph (ii) above took place, and letters were directed 
to various embassies. Replies were received from the British Embassay, 



264 



the Departments of Education of Lesotho and Botswana, the Embas- 
sies of Malawi and Mozambique (under Portuguese rule at the time) 
and from the director of the Institution for the Blind in Angola. The 
latter had previously visited the Worcester School for the Blind and 
Head Office of Council. In this connection it should be mentioned 
that both the Worcester School for the Blind and the Prinshof School 
for the Partially Sighted have been enrolling pupils from Mozambique, 
Angola, Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and Botswana. 

At the meeting of the Executive Committee held on 26 October 1974 
the following persons were appointed as members of the Sub-Com- 
mittee for Aid to Neighbouring States: 
Dr W. Cohen (Chairman) 
Mr A. Gorshel 
Mr W. Rowland. 

As already indicated, the ad hoc committee was changed to a perma- 
nent sub-committee. 

The first meeting of the Sub- Committee was held on 22 November 
1974. Matters concerning Rhodesia, Botswana and Lesotho were dealt 
with. As regards Rhodesia, the proposed visit of Mr C. H. Tapela, edu- 
cational supervisor of the Rhodesian Council for the Blind, was dis- 
cussed. His visit, which included institutions throughout the Republic, 
took place from 22 March to 15 April 1976 and, according to Mr Tape- 
la's report, was very rewarding. Negotiations were also entered into 
with the N.G. Church hospital at Machudi, Botswana, to send a person 
to the Republic to visit workshops and societies with a view to the es- 
tablishment of a workshop for the blind in that area. With regard to 
Lesotho, an application was received from the "Resource Centre 
for Blind Children" for school books in braille. Braille Services under- 
took to offer assistance. 

When studying the minutes of the meetings of the Sub- Committee 
one realises that aid to neighbouring states had gradually increased, 
for which appreciation was expressed by the various organizations in- 
volved. In this connection it should also be mentioned that from the 
beginning a constant liaison with the Department of Foreign Affairs 
had been maintained. In a letter dated 1 September 1977 the Secretary 
for Foreign Affairs wrote: 
(Translated) 

"In connection with your question whether the S.A. National 
Council for the Blind has a role to fulfil in making its aid avail- 



265 



able to certain other Black States, this Department welcomes such 
an idea; indeed, such contact can only be conducive to better 
understanding. In the circumstances it will be appreciated if you 
will continue with the good work on your own initiative, and be 
assured that the Department is always ready to provide you with 
advice, should it be required. "2* 
A few outstanding events and aspects of assistance to Black States are 

set forth in the form of a summary which follows below. 

As a result of the contacts which had been made, several persons 

connected with the Council visited neighbouring states, and states 

further north. 

Mr Pauw, Chairman of the National Council, was requested by the 
Executive Committee to pay visits to countries in Africa, if these could 
be arranged. It was felt that if the Chairman of Council could make 
such personal contacts, and thus convey some of his wide knowledge to 
these countries, it would help to promote better mutual relations. 

With this in view Mr Pauw visited Malawi and Zambia from 29 
August to 2 September 1972 and paid a visit to Mauritius on 27 August 
1976. The latter coincided with a visit to Australia where he attended 
an international conference on the education of the deaf-blind. 

Mr Pauw visited ten schools, organizations, projects and training 
centres in Malawi. The schemes which impressed him most were firstly 
the agricultural projects which had been launched by the government, 
in which both blind and sighted persons participated, and secondly the 
training of teachers at the Montfort College at Limbe. Not only is the 
college engaged in training teachers for schools and classes for the 
blind for Malawi, but also for Zambia, Botswana, Swaziland and Rho- 
desia. The principal. Brother Rudolf, had already visited South Africa 
several times. In connection with possible aid to Malawi, Mr Pauw 
writes as follows: 

"If there is an area in which aid could perhaps in future be given 
to Malawi with good results (if it is desired) then it is in the sphere 
of the provision of literature, particularly in English."" 
It was possible for Mr Pauw to visit only one school in Zambia, 
namely the well-known School for the Blind at Magwero. This school 
has special significance for the S.A. National Council for the Blind, for 
it was the sphere of work of the late Dr Ella Botes, to whom the R. W. 
Bowen Medal was awarded in 197 1.^^ 

Mr Pauw also visited Lesotho on 7 and 8 July 1975. According to in- 



266 



formation obtained from the Secretary of the Resource Centre for the 
Bhnd in Maseru, 20 pupils were attending school. There existed a 
shortage of teaching aids and braille literature. In this respect Worces- 
ter School for the Blind and Braille Services were able to assist. With 
regard to the prevention of blindness outstanding work was being 
done by an ophthalmic surgeon, seconded to Lesotho for a period of 
three years from Israel. Optometrists from Johannesburg paid regular 
visits to Maseru. Mr Pauw concludes his report by stating that the S.A. 
National Council for the Blind is in a position to offer useful assistance 
to the organizations in Lesotho. Follow-up visits are recommended. 

Mr Pauw's visit to Mauritius took the form of a preliminary investi- 
gation, since nobody of the National Council had visited the island be- 
fore. It is interesting to note that a blind man from Mauritius had been 
admitted to the Enid Whitaker Rehabilitation Centre in Johannesburg 
and trained as a telephonist, in which capacity he is at present em- 
ployed in his own country. There is a state school for blind children in 
Mauritius with an enrolment of approximately fifteen pupils and a 
workshop where seventy blind men and women are employed. 

Mr Pauw recommended that the contacts which had been made 
should be followed up, and that the rendering of aid, mainly in the 
form of the provision of braille literature, should be investigated. 

In September 1973 Mr Rowland, in his capacity as Public Relations 
Officer of the Council, paid a visit to Swaziland. In Mbabane he at- 
tended a meeting of the Committee of the Swaziland Society for the 
Handicapped with two officials from the Swaziland government. The 
possibility of setting up a workshop was considered, but the main sub- 
ject under discussion was fund-raising. Various suggestions were 
made, among which was the possibility of holding a Trophy of Light 
Competition, similar to those in South Africa. 

Mr Rowland also visited St Joseph's Mission at Manzini, where there 
were 12 blind out of a total of 56 handicapped children. All of them 
were integrated in classes at an ordinary school, according to the open 
education system. 

At the conclusion of his report Mr Rowland submitted a number of 
suggestions for rendering aid. It appeared that methods for fund-rais- 
ing should enjoy priority, and after that the provision of braille litera- 
ture, especially for general reading. 

In October 1975 Miss Hazel Smith attended an international confer- 
ence on orthopaedic rehabilitation in Lesotho and made use of the op- 



267 



portunity to visit the Resource Centre for Blind Children in Maseru. 
An interesting item from her report was that the teachers were some- 
what disturbed on account of the difficulties which the pupils experi- 
enced with "Republic-braille" in comparison with "Lesotho-braille", 
which they were used to. (It should be mentioned here that the Sotho 
language of Lesotho is the same as Southern Sotho, which is used in 
some parts of the Republic of South Africa, chiefly the Free State.) Miss 
Smith could explain that the difference was caused by the fact that 
"Republic-braille" is contracted Sotho-braille, while Lesotho-braille 
is the uncontracted system. From Miss Smith's report it also came to 
light that, according to a statement made by the Rehabilitation Coun- 
cillor of the Lesotho government, the blind population of Lesotho 
totalled 2 400 approximately. 

In connection with visits, it can be mentioned that the director 
undertook several journeys to South West Africa as well as to Transkei. 
Dr W. Cohen and Mr A. Gorshel paid visits to Bophuthatswana. Be- 
sides these the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness on several oc- 
casions undertook tours to South West Africa, Transkei and Lesotho, 
as well as to the various homelands. 

From the above it is obvious that contact, with the purpose of ren- 
dering assistance, had not only been made with neighbouring states, 
but also with states further north. Consequently the Executive Com- 
mittee passed a resolution at a meeting held 18-19 October 1976 to 
change the name of the committee to the Committee for International 
Relations. 

Material assistance to neighbouring states consists among other 
things of supplying braille paper, educational aids such as even a ther- 
moform machine with a quantity of brailon, cane, braille literature 
and articles specially manufactured or adapted for blind persons from 
the central depot of the Council. Other assistance usually takes the 
form of visits by persons from these countries, rehabilitation services, 
and the screening of prospective candidates for the Physiotherapy 
School of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, London, at the re- 
quest of the latter. 

The programme for the rendering of assistance by the S.A. National 
Council for the Blind does not only provide for material support, but 
also for advice. In this way our neighbouring states are enabled to de- 
velop projects for the advancement of their blind population. Pre- 
viously this aid had been unorganised and sporadic, but since the es- 



268 



tablishment of the Committee the assistance not only increased in 
scope but was also more effectively implemented. This mutual co-op- 
eration contributed to a better understanding between the Council and 
the organizations with which contact had been made. The Committee 
for International Relations, with Dr W. Cohen as its Chairman, de- 
serves the thanks of the Council for its efforts. 

It must also be mentioned here that Mr Hymy Matthews, Vice-Presi- 
dent of the National Council, was invited to become an honorary 
member of the Swaziland Society for the Handicapped. This invitation 
was a token of their appreciation for the contribution which Mr Mat- 
thews had made towards the cause of the blind in Swaziland. He had 
donated a Trophy of Light to be competed for in order to augment the 
Society's funds. This is a great honour for Mr Matthews, and naturally 
for the National Council. It may be of interest to mention here that 
both Mr and Mrs Matthews actually played in the first Trophy of Light 
golf competition at Mbabane. 

Committee of Workshop Managers 

The Committee of Workshop Managers, which was established by 
the National Council at its meeting of 20-22 October 1976, must be 
seen as the continuation of the Technical Development Comm^ittee 
which had already come into existence in November 1962, but which 
was dissolved a few years later. Both committees were established as a 
result of conferences of workshop managers. 

The first conference of workshop managers took place on 27 
October 1962. Mr N. F. Soanes, then Manager of the Transvaal Society 
for Non- European Blind, presided. A report of the conference, to- 
gether with the resolutions adopted, was submitted by Mr Soanes to 
the meeting of the Council held on 1-2 November 1962. Several mat- 
ters which are still relevant at the present day were discussed, such as 
the cultivation of willow, the wholesale buying of raw materials, the 
training of instructors, regulations regarding leave, and the drafting of 
a manual containing information concerning matters such as incre- 
ments, conditions of employment, procedures in connection with pen- 
sions, drawing up budgets, etc. The conference also resolved to estab- 
lish a Technical Committee to deal with all matters pertaining to 
workshops. The following persons were appointed: 

Mr N. F. Soanes (Manager, Transvaal Society for Non-European 
Blind) 



269 



Mr C. F. J. Grumbridge (Manager, Natal Bantu Blind Society) 
Mr L. C. Jervis (Manager, Johannesburg Society to Help Civilian 
Blind) 

Mr H. G. Hettasch (Manager, Worcester Workshop and Hostels 
for the Blind) 

Mrs H. M. Odgers (Secretary). 
The Committee held its first meeting on 23 March 1963 at the Con- 
stance Cawston Institute of the Natal Bantu Blind Society, Westville, 
Durban. 

Mr Soanes was elected Chairman. 

All the matters that had been discussed at the conference again re- 
ceived attention, together w^ith a few important additions. The first was 
the problem of the increase in the number of mentally retarded per- 
sons who were admitted to the workshops. The second was the need 
for an investigation into the manufacturing of new products. The third 
was the desirability of finding avenues of employment for the blind in 
open labour. 

It was also decided to forward the minutes of the meeting to all af- 
filiated societies which are in control of workshops, and to request 
them to give their opinions on the matters which had been discussed. 
The various associations reacted favourably, which proved that the 
matters had enjoyed their serious consideration. 

The second meeting of the Committee, at which Dr P. E. Biesen- 
bach, the superintendent, was also present, took place on 13 Septem- 
ber 1963 at the Worcester Workshops and Homes. On this occasion, as 
indeed at subsequent meetings, the important role which workshops 
still have to play was emphasised. Although it is necessary to expand 
the types of work offered, and to change the character of the work- 
shops, sheltered employment still remains the sole method of employ- 
ment for certain blind people, and the only means of a livelihood. 

In a memorandum drawn up by Mr L. N. F. Pretorius of Head Of- 
fice of Council, which was submitted to the meeting, it was stated that 
extensive developments had taken place in the workshops during the 
previous decade. 

In connection with the question of employment Mr Pretorius writes 
as follows: 

"Admittedly a lot of time and energy has been put into placing 
blind people in the open labour market and excellent results have 
been achieved. However, blind people are still being employed in 



270 



workshops for the bHnd — in 1962 the number was 724, an in- 
crease of 40 per cent in eight years. 

Today (i.e. in 1963) workshops for the blind employ almost 800 
blind people of all racial groups and during 1962 their total 
turnover was R406 833 and they have used raw materials to the 
extent of R 197 120. In the case of the Worcester Workshops for 
the Blind their turnover increased from R23 262 in 1948 to 
R 140 790 in 1962 — an increase of more dian 500 per cent.^^ All 
workshops for the blind showed a tremendous increase in turn- 
over the last few years." 
At the Worcester meeting attention was once more given to the 
manufacturing of new types of products. The matter was regarded in 
such a serious light that it was decided to make a recommendation to 
the Executive Committee of Council to appoint a person who had inti- 
mate knowledge of the blind and of workshop management to investi- 
gate the possibility of introducing new products which could be made 
by the blind. 

At a meeting of the National Council held in October 1964 the name 
of the committee was changed to Committee for Technical De- 
velopment, with the same objectives and terms of reference. The first 
meeting of the Committee under its new name took place on 8 
December 1964 in Pretoria. Mr N. F. Soanes was again elected chair- 
man for the following term. 

A further development in connection with workshops was Mr Jer- 
vis's study tour to Europe in 1966, when he visited workshops for the 
blind in England, Scotland, Holland and Germany. His report was 
dealt with in the chapter on the activities of the Committee for Em- 
ployment. 

Following Mr N. F. Soanes' resignation at the end of 1966, Mr H. G. 
Hettasch, Manager of the Worcester Workshops, was elected chairman 
in 1967. From that time onwards representatives of the Department of 
Labour also attended the meetings, which resulted in closer contact 
with the Department of Labour. 

The twelfth (and last) meeting of the Committee for Technical De- 
velopment was held on 22 April 1968.. At a meeting of the Executive 
Committee held on 26 October 1968 it was resolved to incorporate the 
Committee with the Committee for Rehabilitation and Employment. 
The latter would manage all the affairs pertaining to workshops and 



271 



sheltered employment for the blind. Technical advisers would be in- 
vited to attend the meetings. 

No reasons were given in the minutes for the dissolution of the 
Committee for Technical Development. This left a void, which is 
proved by the fact that it again became necessary to convene a confer- 
ence of workshop managers. This conference took place on 25 October 
1971 in Johannesburg. The interest shown was commendable, and 
with two exceptions all societies with workshops were represented. 

The discussions chiefly dealt with administrative matters such as the 
grading of workshops, the wages of workers, increments, salary scales 
of workshop personnel, leave privileges, preparation of the annual 
budget and problems connected with the sales tax. It was also resolved 
that such conferences should take place regularly in future. 

The resolutions and recommendations of the conference were for- 
warded to the Committee for Rehabilitation and Employment for sub- 
mission to the Executive Committee of Council. 

Five years had elapsed, however, before the next conference was 
held. It took place on 5 and 6 August 1976 in Johannesburg on the in- 
itiative of the Director of the Council. 

When studying the attendance register and the programme, one be- 
comes aware of the fact that this conference was much greater in scope 
than any of the preceding ones. 

There were 42 persons present comprising representatives of organi- 
zations which had workshops under their control and organizations 
which were contemplating establishing workshops, members of the 
Committee for Rehabilitation and Employment, members of the Div- 
isions for Coloured and Indian Blind, two representatives of the 
National Council for the Care of Cripples and officials of three State 
departments, namely Labour, Social Welfare and Pensions, and Bantu 
Administration and Development (now the Department of Cooper- 
ation and Development). 

The keynote address was delivered by Mr G. A. Mann, Vice-Chair- 
man of the National Council for the Care of Cripples in South Africa, 
on the principle and practice of integration of handicapped persons in 
the community in relation to sheltered or protective employment. He 
proceeded to explain the policy of the Eastern Cape branch of Cripple 
Care in regard to their project in Port Elizabeth. He dealt with several 
cardinal aspects of protective employment. 

Sessions were set aside for various aspects of workshop affairs. The 



272 



whole field was covered. It was also resolved to appoint a committee 
chiefly to organise further conferences. The establishment of a Com- 
mittee of Workshop Managers was recommended and approved at the 
next meeting of the Council held in October 1976. The following per- 
sons were elected as members: 

Mr G. Hilton-Barber (Transvaal Society for Blind Blacks) 

Mr W. C. A. Viljoen (Worcester Workshop and Homes for the 

Blind) 

Mr C. A. Tucker (Johannesburg Society to Help Civilian Blind) 
Mr G. R. Hikon-Barber was appointed convener. 

Since it had been decided to hold the conference annually the fol- 
lowing one was arranged for 16 September 1977.^* 

An important question which was discussed at this conference was 
the most effective method of selling the finished articles. Marketing re- 
search was regarded as a prerequisite, as well as the establishment of 
various outlets. The problem was, however, that workshop managers 
did not have time to spend on this aspect of the work and that most 
workshops could not afford extra staff for this purpose. 

The question of blind persons with multiple handicaps once more 
received serious attention, for this was a matter which was assuming 
greater proportions every year. 

A discussion followed on the possibility of introducing metalwork at 
the workshops on the Witwatersrand. An exposition was given of what 
was being done at Worcester with regard to this. 

The question of sub-contract work was thoroughly discussed and 
those present were advised about the best methods of procuring parts 
for assembling. It was suggested that the Council should appoint a 
person to obtain sub-contract work for workshops. 

The next conference of Workshop Managers was held in August 
1978. 



273 



1 Dr Cohen received an honorary degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) from the University of 
the Wirwatersrand in 1962. 

2 The offices of first and second vice-chairmen were introduced in 1968 follow^ing an amendment 
to the constitution. Today they are called: Vice-chairman and deputy vice-chairman. 

3 The Cape Province is divided into two geographical areas: western and eastern. 

4 Quoted from the constitution of Council. 

5 In the 16th biennial report (1960-1962) under the heading Life Vice-Presidents we find the 
names: Miss M. T. Watson, Mr Hymy Matthews J. P., and Rev. Dr A. W. Blaxall. 

6 This is a board which was established during the second world war for the rehabilitation of re- 
turned soldiers by way of the granting of bursaries. Later these bursaries were made available to 
handicapped persons as well. 

7 The origmal Afrikaans Braille System was devised by V. H. Vaughan during the years 1932 to 
1938. This became necessary as the result of certain basic alterations which had been made to 
the English system in 1932. 

8 A report of this organization will follow later. 

9 The Van Schalkwijk Report is a report of a Committee appointed by the Secretary for Educa- 
tion, Arts and Science to investigate and report on the education and training of the partially 
sighted child. The members were: Dr L. van Schalkwijk (chairman), Dr P. E. Biesenbach and 
Mr V. H. Vaughan. The report appeared in 1958. As a result of the recommendations of the 
committee the education of the partially sighted was transferred from the provinces to the cen- 
tral government (Department of Education, Arts and Science). 

'o,Mrs L. Butler-Smith was a representative of the Cape Town Civilian Blind Society. 

" Minutes of Executive Committee meeting held 22-24 October 1969, page 16. 

'2 Minutes of the Executive Committee meeting held 15-17 April 1970, page 11. 

'3 "Proceedings of the World Assembly of the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind, held at 

> Sao Paulo, Brazil, in August 7-16 1974." 

Minutes of Executive Committee meeting held 2 December 1931, page 14. 
'5 Minutes of Executive Committee meeting held 1-2 October 1953 when Dr Van Schalkwijk's 

visit abroad was discussed. 
16 Proceedings of World Assembly of WCWB, 1974, page 1. 

I'The venue was changed and the meeting was held in Brussels in August 1979. 

18 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 

19 World Braille Usage by Sir Cluthe MacKenzie, page 169. 

20 Proceedings of the World Assembly of the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind, August 
1974, page 79. 

21 There is no record of this, but the present writer was personally concerned with the matter 
when he was the vice-principal of tne Worcester School for the Blind. 

22 Malawi today. 

23 The relevant section of the minutes (Executive Committee meeting of 21-22 October 1974) 
reads as follows: "It was noted that the Director of the newly established Institute for the Blind 
in Angola, who had two blind sons, had visited Head Office and the Worcester School for the 
Blind, and that he had been furnished with information regarding schools for the blind and 
services available in the Republic." 

2* Annexure to the Chairman's report, submitted to the meeting of the Executive Committee 
October 1977. 

25 School for the Blind, Worcester: Principal's report on four short study tours, 1972-1977, page 
16. 

26 School for the Blind, Worcester: Principal's report on four short study tours, 1972-1977, page 
8. 

27 Worcester's turnover for 1978 was Rl 000 000. 

28 According to the minutes this was the second meeting. Actually it was the fourth. The other 
three were held in 1962, 1971 and 1976. 



274 



CHAPTER 1 1 



PREVENTION OF BLINDNESS 

Already at its inaugural meeting in 1929, the South African 
National Council for the Blind realised that an important aspect of its 
activities should be the prevention of blindness. The old saying: pre- 
vention is better than cure, would be most appropriate here. Thus the 
Council, in its first constitution, was enjoined: 

"To undertake the dissemination of knowledge concerning the 
blind, including the causation and prevention of blindness." 
At the abovementioned first meeting of the Council held on 20 
March 1929 a resolution was adopted* in connection with the medical 
treatment of expectant women who suffered from venereal diseases. 
The importance of supplying information to mothers and other 
interested persons concerning the care of the eyes of new-born infants 
was also stressed. The resolution concluded as follows: 

"This National Council recognises and deeply appreciates the 
work done by die Ministry of Healdi in die improvement of mid- 
wifery services but would urge a much more active and wide- 
spread educative campaign on the importance of proper care of 
the eyes of the new-born infant." 
The resolution was forwarded to the four provincial authorities, to- 
gether with a letter of explanation in which the hope was expressed 
that hospitals and other health services, provincial and local, would 
give their serious attention to the matter. The reaction was very sa- 
tisfactory. In some cases problems in connecdon with procedure 
cropped up, but it was clear that the resoludon of the Council and the 
representadons which followed produced the required results, for the 
eyes of new-born children duly received the required attention. This 
procedure by Council, which already took place in the early stages of 
its existence, must be considered the first genuine effort made with re- 
gard to the prevendon of blindness. It was also the first dme that con- 
tact widi die healdi audiorides had been made. The following quotation 



275 



from the minutes of the meeting of the Executive Committee held on 2 July 
1930 gives an indication of the progress which had been made in this con- 
nection : 

"The secretary reported that the resolution which was adopted at 
the inaugural meeting of the S.A. National Council for the Blind 
had been taken up by Dr Mitchell, Secretary for Public Health, 
and by the Transvaal Administration, who had made a circular 
letter of the resolution and sent it to all local authorities and hos- 
pital boards. He (the Secretary) had received a number of letters 
from different hospitals and municipalities which showed that an 
enormous amount of good propaganda work had been done." 
Up to now, however, it was merely the spreading of propaganda and 
the dissemination of knowledge. Not until much later would the 
Council embark on an extensive practical programme for the preven- 
tion of blindness. 

At the same meeting of the Executive Committee (2 July 1930) it was 
resolved to appoint a sub -committee to deal with matters relating to 
the prevention of blindness. It was called the Remedial Measures Sub- 
Committee. In connection with this the minutes state the following: 
"After further discussion it was proposed and agreed that the 
Executive should appoint a small sub-committee, to be called 
'Remedial measures Sub- Committee' and to consist of Dr Van 
Schalkwijk or alternate, the Chairman (Adv. R. W. Bowen), the 
Secretary and one medical doctor, preferably an eye specialist, 
with power to add to their number if they wished." 
This, therefore, was the first committee to be appointed for the pre- 
vention of blindness. At a later date the names of Mr P. E. Biesenbach 
and Mrs A. E. Horwood^ were added to the sub-committee. 

Although this sub-committee was often mentioned at meetings of 
the Executive Committee, no reports of its activities are available. At a 
meeting of the Executive Committee held on 25 July 1931 a motion 
was introduced by Dr Van Schalkwijk to the effect that a qualified 
nurse be appointed to do preventive work, mainly among children, in 
co-operation with the Child Welfare Society. There is no indication as 
to whether this resolution was brought into effect. At this same meet- 
ing of the Executive Committee the secretary reported that the Council 
had become a member of the International Association for Prevention 
of Blindness, with head-office in Paris, and that literature had been re- 
ceived from that organization. 



276 



It is not dear whether the above activities had been initiated by the 
Remedial Measures Sub -Committee, but it can be assumed that the 
sub-committee ceased to exist round about 1933. There is also no indi- 
cation that a medical doctor was ever a member of the sub-committee. 

At a meeting of the Executive Committee held on 14 December 
1932^ the secretary reported that 3 000 copies of the pamphlet Save the 
Eyes and the Sight were printed and distributed in both English and Af- 
rikaans. 

In the years that followed propaganda work was continued. This 
mostly comprised the distribution of information about the various as- 
pects of eye hygiene and sight preservation. No surveys concerning eye 
conditions were conducted in those days, with the result that the extent 
of the problem remained practically unknown. Only after the adop- 
tion of the Blind Persons Act in 1936, and the registration of blind per- 
sons which followed, could an idea be formed of the actual situation 
with regard to the incidence of blindness. Data pertaining to the eye 
condition of the person had to be entered on the registration form as 
well as an indication as to whether his sight could be improved by an 
operation or otherwise. As a result of this stipulation it has been found 
by opthalmic surgeons that a large percentage of blindness amongst all 
population groups was preventable. 

For the first time statistical data could be collected and analysed. 
This state of affairs was a cause of concern to the Council and at the 
following biennial meeting, held on 21 and 22 June 1939 in Durban, 
considerable attention was devoted to the matter. Two papers were 
read and important resolutions resulted from them. The first paper 
was delivered by Mr F. Rodseth, representative of the then Department 
of Native Affairs, and was entitled : 

"Some aspects of the incidence of blindness amongst Natives and 
a few notes on what has been and what should be done in con- 
nection with such blindness." 
Unfortunately the address is not available any more, but the speaker 
must have stressed the necessity for preventive measures, for the mi- 
nutes record the following with reference to a motion of thanks to the 
speaker by Dr F. W. P. Cluver of the Department of Public health: 
"Dr Cluver said it was unfortunate that there was always money 
available for remedies but that when it came to prevention it was 
very hard to persuade legislators to provide the funds. He felt that 
there was a tendency to start at the wrong end." 



277 



After the discussion which followed, it was decided: 

"That a resolution be drafted in consultation with Mr Rodseth 
and Dr Cluver on the incidence of blindness amongst natives and 
the need for effective steps for its prevention." 
An address was also delivered by Dr T. D. Gordon on: "Causes of 
Blindness and their Prevention." 

As a result of these addresses two more resolutions followed. The 
first was submitted by the Rev. A. W. Blaxall and read as follows: 
"In as much as the returns show that many blind natives are suf- 
fering from eye defects which would respond to medical or surgi- 
cal treatment the Government be requested to appoint an oph- 
thalmologist to travel to rural areas in order to recommend 
suitable cases for free treatment at properly equipped hospitals." 
The second resolution was submitted by Mr A. D. Kirstein,* namely 
that a department for the prevention of blindness be established. It 
read as follows: 

"That in the opinion of this meeting the National Council for the 
Blind should now open a special department for the prevention 
of blindness with a full-time officer in charge." 

The passing of this resolution must be considered to be the begin- 
ning of the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness.^ 

At a later meeting of the Executive Committee^ the matter was given 
further attention. Firstly it was resolved that "owing to the gravity of 
the international situation ... an additional officer would not be ap- 
pointed on the staff of the Council."' Nevertheless the terms of refer- 
ence and a complete set of regulations for the functioning of the Bu- 
reau were drawn up. 

It was thus decided that the Organising Secretary of the Council would 
be the officer in charge of the Bureau. Furthermore the Bureau was in- 
structed to distribute information concerning the causes of blindness, with 
the purpose of drawing the attention of the Department of Health to the 
urgent need for effective measures to combat blindness. Efforts should also 
be made to obtain the co-operation of welfare societies, doctors, educa- 
tionists, nurses and industrialists in the matter. 

With regard to the medical aspect, representations were to be di- 
rected to the Provincial Education Department "to appoint at least one 
ophthalmologist on the Medical Inspection Staff of schools". 

The first task of the Bureau was collating and analysing the data 
concerning blindness, as obtained from the official forms which had 



278 



been completed in connection with the registration of bhnd persons. 
In the sixth biennial report of the Council (1939-1940) an analysis was 
made in respect of 17 263 registered blind persons, namely 1 569 
Whites, 1 347 Coloureds and 13 803 Blacks. (The registration of Indian 
blind only started from 1 September 1944.)* 

The tables indicated, amongst other things the origin of persons ac- 
cording to province and the various age groups, as well as the causes of 
blindness. All these data were of the utmost importance, since for the 
first time a general conception could be formed of the incidence and 
other aspects of blindness in the country. 

Additional to the data obtained, the Organising Secretary, who was 
also the official in charge of the Bureau, gave an overview of the gen- 
eral circumstances regarding eye conditions in the country. Resulting 
from this the urgency for a competent organization for the prevention 
of blindness became evident. He mentioned a few of the chief causes of 
blindness, such as cataract, glaucoma, ophtalmia neonatorum (sore 
eyes in new-born children), virus diseases such as chicken pox, 
measles, encephalitis, etc., venereal diseases, accidents, poisoning of 
the constitution, and common diseases such as diabetes, nephritis and 
diseases of the nervous system. 

Statistically speaking, cataracts were the most prevalent — 5 172 out 
of 17 263 cases. The Organising secretary deplored the fact that such a 
state of affairs could exist since most of these cases could have regained 
their sight by means of operative treatment. It may be of interest to 
note further that, out of the total of 17 263 cases, only 735 were indi- 
cated as being blind as a result of trachoma, i.e. 4,25 per cent. It must 
however be stated that the cause of blindness in 4 439 cases was des- 
cribed as "unknown". This represents approximately 26 per cent of 
the total. The possible explanation for this may be that not all medical 
examinations were conducted by eye specialists. 

In the seventh biennial report of the Council (1941-1943) it was 
stated that a "sub -committee was appointed by the Executive Commit- 
tee to give attention to, and to submit a report on the development of 
the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness".^ 

This sub-committee, under the chairmanship of the Rev. A. W. 
Blaxall, submitted its report to the seventh biennial meeting of the 
Council, held 17-18 October 1944. The report was adopted with a 
minor amendment. 

It seems that the existence of the then Bureau was completely ig- 



279 



nored by the sub-committee, for in the first paragraph it was recom- 
mended : 

"That a Bureau be estabhshed under the name of: Bureau for the 
Prevention of BHndness under the auspices of the South African 
National Council for the Blind." 
Further recommendations were made and approved concerning the 
functions, personnel, administration and financial aspects. Amongst 
other things it was recommended that the staff of the Bureau would 
consist of a Director as the chief officer with such clerical assistance as 
might be needed from time to time. Even the qualifications of the Di- 
rector as well as his salary were decided upon. Lastly it was stipulated 
that the Bureau should commence its activities on 1 January 1945.^*^ 
It is obvious from the committee's report and the discussion which 
followed at the Council meeting that a new era in connection with the 
prevention of blindness had commenced. No reference, however, was 
made to the existing Bureau. 

The following is an extract from minutes with regard to the matter: 
"The Rev. Mr Blaxall formally presented the report of the special 
sub-committee appointed under Clauses 12-14 of the minutes of 
the 39th meeting of the Executive Committee in connection with 
the establishment and development of a Bureau for the Preven- 
tion of Blindness. 

Dr Boshoff" in a very interesting and informative address 
moved the adoption of the report of the special sub-committee. 
Mrs Blaxall, who seconded the motion, strongly supported the 
establishment of such a bureau." 
After mentioning the names of all the persons who had taken part in 
the discussion the minutes state that the report was unanimously 
adopted. The Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness was therefore re- 
established on 17 October 1944. 

The Palmer Hostel 

Before proceeding with the history of the Bureau it is necessary to 
turn our attention to another praiseworthy effort which was made in 
connection with the prevention of blindness. This was the establish- 
ment of the Palmer Hostel at Roodepoort. 

In the seventh biennial report of the National Council (1941-1943), 
the following paragraph appeared under the heading: Additional Socie- 
ties and Institutions: 

"The Palmer hostel, the first and only one of its kind in South Af- 



280 



rica, was ofFicially opened on 3 June 1944. It is a fully equipped 
hospital with 24 beds for the treatment of urgent eye diseases. 
There is one qualified nurse on duty, and an eye specialist reg- 
ularly visits the patients, and already the sight of 77 of the 131 
cases who were treated there, has been restored." 
Furthermore it was reported that a grant was made by the Chamber 
of Mines and that an annual subsidy on the £-for- £ basis up to a cer- 
tain amount was received from the Department of Health. 

The Palmer hostel was started through the efforts of two sisters, Mrs 
Palmer and Mrs Alexander, as an eye clinic in a rented house near 
Ezenzeleni'^ for the treatment of the inmates who were employed in the 
nearby institution. However, the need was so great that it developed 
into a fully fledged hospital complete with, amongst other equipment, 
an operating theatre. Soon it served not only the surrounding neigh- 
bourhood but also patient* who flocked there from other parts of the 
Transvaal. The nursing staff was augmented and a matron appointed. 

The hospital was under the control of the Transvaal Society for the 
Care of Non- European Blind and was later subsidised by the Transvaal 
Hospital Services in view of the important medical services it rendered. 

The activities of the hostel were regularly recorded in the annual re- 
ports of the Society. In these reports it was often stated that the need 
was so great at times that up to 50 per cent more patients were ad- 
mitted than the normal accommodation allowed. To illustrate this we 
quote the following from the 1958 annual report of the Palmer Hospi- 
tals^: 

"Normally very few crises occur and we get on with the job 
quietly (or so we like to think). However, like everyone else we 
have our moments, the latest one started at about 7.30 p.m. in 
late November. The phone rang in Matron's cottage and a voice 
said 'It's me, Matron. I'm at the station with 41 patients.' This 
startling disclosure was followed by a gasp from Matron and a 
muttered: 'I'll see about transport'. ('Me' was Nurse Jestina Mat- 
lapeng, who had just returned from a trip to the Phokeng District 
of Rustenburg). Next followed a call to the Manager of Ezenzeleni 
with a request for the transportation of 41 patients (size un- 
known!) and one nurse, from Roodepoort station to Palmer 
Hospital. Now, even to a large hospital the admission of 41 
patients late in the evening and all at once, causes quite a stir. But 
at Palmer we have only 24 beds and we already had 30 patients. 



281 



so plus our 41 admissions this gave us the formidable total of 7 1. 

The first truck load to arrive consisted of about 30 small chil- 
dren. These were eagerly seized by Matron, nurses, kitchen and 
other staff from neighbouring houses who had come to lend a 
hand. Then the adults arrived and the routine w^as much the same 
. . . Next day we began to get ourselves organized. An S.O.S. to 
one of our honorary ophthalmic surgeons, extra beds and mat- 
tresses and accommodation in the recreation room of the Wo- 
men's hostel at Ezenzeleni, etc." 
From the annual reports of the hospital it appeared that approxi- 
mately 200 patients had received treatment annually, with bed occupa- 
tion approximately 30 per day. Statistics for 1968 indicate that 181 
serious and 46 minor operations were performed. The number of 
patient days totalled 11 344, and the part-time eye specialist held 77 
clinics. Nine field tours were undertaken annually as a follow-up to 
determine the general eye conditions in the surrounding areas. Often 
patients were discovered for admission to the hospital. 

The Palmer Hospital has in course of time worked closely with the 
Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness of the S.A. National Council 
for the Blind. It sometimes happened that the Bureau referred cases to 
the Palmer Hospital for treatment, and the Hospital on occasion sup- 
plied nursing staff to the Bureau. 

With the transfer of the Ezenzeleni Institution from Roodepoort to 
Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, and later to Ga-Rankuwa in 
Bophuthatswana, the future of the Palmer Eye Hospital was in jeop- 
ardy. However, it continued with its good work until August 1974 
when it finally closed its doors. 

The activities and achievements of the Palmer Eye Hospital were in- 
strumental in exposing the many problems in connection with blind- 
ness among the Black population of the Western and Northern Trans- 
vaal. It must be regarded as an incentive for the National Council to 
proceed with the prevention of blindness through its Bureau. 

In a review of the history of the Transvaal Society for the Care of 
Non- European Blind at the time of the commemoration of its tenth 
anniversary, the Rev. A. W. Blaxall writes about the Palmer Hospital as 
follows:** 

"With a natural pride we feel in some way responsible for two 
events full of significance for the future of our eye health in South 
Africa: (a) The establishment of a Bureau for the Prevention of 



282 




Mr D. J. van Wyk, Organising Secretary from Mr S. K. Wentworth, Director of the Bureau 
1943 to 1961. for the Prevention of BUndness (1947-1960) 

and Director of the S.A. National Council for 
the Blind (1961-1972). 




Mobile Eye Clinic of the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness. 



283 



Blindness as part of the National Council for the Blind, and (b) 
the undertaking by the Order of St. John in South Africa to es- 
tablish near Johannesburg a fully equipped eye hospital. "^^ 

Appointment of a Director 

Turning to the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness, the sub-com- 
mittee which had been appointed to report on its establishment rec- 
ommended that it should begin its activities on 1 April 1945. This indi- 
cated that the matter was regarded as urgent. Several ophthalmic 
surgeons stressed the importance of prevention and the possibility of 
restoring the sight of a high percentage of people stricken with blind- 
ness. They advocated immediate action. The experience of the Palmer 
hospital as well as the data gleaned from the medical forms which had 
been completed for the registration of blind persons, emphasized the 
gravity of the situation. 

Circumstances such as equipping an office and the appointment of a 
director, however, prevented the Bureau from commencing on 1 April 
1945. The procurement of a suitable person was an important reason 
for the delay. The Committee appointed to make the recommendation 
in this connection, realised that an unsuitable appointment would en- 
danger the success of the Bureau. The post was advertised several 
times, and finally it was decided to call seven candidates to appear for 
interviews. For this purpose a special meeting of the Executive Com- 
mittee was held in Bloemfontein on 5 November 1945. 

Before the candidates were due to appear matters took a sudden 
turn when Rev. A. W. Blaxall informed the meeting that he had been in 
touch with Dr L. van Schalkwijk, then Director of Demobilisation 
with the rank of Major, and had asked him to bring the post to the no- 
tice of demobilised soldiers. The result was that Lieutenant S. K. Went- 
worth was also summoned for an interview. 

In connection with the interviews an extraordinary procedure was 
followed, which is worthy of note. The minutes of the meeting describe 
it as follows: 

"After interviewing the candidates, the applicants were discussed 
and it was then agreed that Mr Le Roux and Lt Wentworth be 
asked to report back at 2.15 p.m. and 2.30 p.m. respectively and 
that they be asked to address this meeting as if it were a public 
meeting convened and presided over by the Mayor of Mafeking 



284 



. . . The object of this address to be to arouse interest for preven- 
tive measures in Mafeking." 

After the rendering of the speeches Lt Wentworth, by means of a 
vote taken, was appointed Director of the Bureau for the Prevention of 
BUndness. He assumed office on 16 January 1946. 

The first progress report which he submitted to the Executive Com- 
mittee (meeting of 5 November 1946) set out firstly how he had set 
about becoming orientated in his work, and secondly what efforts he 
had initially employed to promote the prevention of blindness. Ac- 
cording to the report he adopted the following procedure. Immedi- 
ately after his appointment he visited organizations for the blind in and 
about Pretoria and Johannesburg in order to get an insight into the 
problems of blindness. Among these was the Palmer Hospital at 
Roodepoort. Moreover, he was able to gather a great deal of infor- 
mation in connection with eye conditions from the registers of blind 
pensioners, and ascertained which diseases could be prevented. He 
began making contact with ophthalmologists from whom he learnt 
much. In addition, in collaboration with the National War Memorial 
Foundation, he displayed a number of posters on the prevention of 
blindness at the exhibition of the Foundation at the 1946 Rand Show- 

The Bureau also took part in a health propaganda tour of the S.A. 
Vrouefederasie which visited the rural disctricts for six weeks in cara- 
vans. Placards illustrating prevention of blindness, many of which were 
from mining houses, were exhibited. The posters were also displayed 
during health weeks of various municipalities on the Rand. 

The Director made an important contact during the first year of the 
Bureau's existence with the St. John Association, which was on the 
point of beginning with the erection of an eye hospital on the outskirts 
of Johannesburg. This was an event of extreme importance inasmuch 
as it would fulfil a dire need, especially with regard to the treatment of 
eye diseases and the prevention of blindness among the Black popula- 
tion. 

Another aspect of the Director's first report was his intention to con- 
duct a survey of eye conditions among the Black population of the 
Northern Transvaal. Since this would be the first of numerous surveys 
in preparation for a country- wide treatment programme to be under- 
taken later, it is certainly fitting to quote that portion of the report 
which can be regarded as historical: 

"A survey of native eye sufferers in the Duiwelskloof area will be 



285 



conducted early next month.' The Transvaal Society for the Care 
of Non- European Blind has generously accepted financial re- 
sponsibility for this work, which will be carried out by the honor- 
ary ophthalmologist to the Palmer Hostel, assisted by members 
of their staff and the Director." 
After the Director's report had been dealt with, the Executive Com- 
mittee resolved (on a proposal by Rev. A. W. Blaxall) to appoint a 
committee to assist the Director in an advisory capacity. It consisted of 
the following members: 
Rev. A. W. Blaxall 
Dr E. Franks 
Dr P. BoshofF 
Mr C. W. Kops 
Mrs H. Wiley 
Mr D. N. Murray. 
No chairman was appointed and the Director acted as convener. 
It is significant that two ophthalmologists were appointed, namely 
Dr E. Franks of Pretoria and Dr P. Boshoff of Johannesburg. It must be re- 
garded as a recognition of the extremely important role which the medical 
profession had to play in the field of the prevendon of blindness. 

Later on five more ophthalmologists were co-opted to the commit- 
tee, as well as representatives of the Departments of Health and Native 
Affairs and Mrs F. Blaxall, then matron of the Palmer Eye Hospital. 

Surveys 

As was envisaged by the Director in his first report' ' the Bureau re- 
garded the conducting of surveys in various parts of the country as of 
prime importance. To carry out this task it was essential to obtain the 
services of medical specialists. The National Council was fortunate in 
finding ophthalmic surgeons who would do the work on an honorary 
basis. As early as 1945 the Council had, by means of a notice in the 
medical press, invited eye specialists to offer their services to the Bu- 
reau on a voluntary and honorary basis. 

At a meeting of the Executive Committee, held on 5 November 
1945, the Organising Secretary of the Council announced that twelve 
opthalmic surgeons had expressed their willingness to be of service.'^ The 
surveys would be conducted under the personal supervision of the Di- 
rector of the Bureau who would be responsible for the organization 
side. 



286 



It was reported in the ninth biennial report of the Council that dur- 
ing 1947 six ophthalmological surveys had been conducted. These 
took place in the following areas : Louis Trichardt, Letaba, Bochem in 
the Transvaal, Thaba 'Nchu in the Orange Free State, and Oudtshoorn 
and King William's Town in the Cape province. All the surveys were of 
Black and Coloured groups. The following is a summary of the data 
which was obtained:'^ 





Number 
Examined 


Trachoma 


Keratitis 


Cataract 


Corneal 
Scars 


Pterygia | 


Squints 


Conjunctivitis 


Glaucoma 


General 


Number with 
eye diseases 


Oudtshoorn 


1 481 


108 




39 


100 


34 


31 


143 


6 


97 


558 


King William's Town 


403 


8 


140 


83 


4 








9 


49 


293 


Thaba 'Nchu 


1 086 


4 




41 


30 


7 


10 


34 


17 


53 


196 


Bochem 


699 


9 


19 


24 


86 


8 


9 


143 


4 


66 


368 


Louise Trichardt 


1 832 


428 




88 


89 








14 


277 


896 


Letaba 


600 


84 




11 


25 


8 


2 


108 


3 


58 


299 


TOTAL 


6 101 


641 


159 


286 


334 


57 


52 


428 


53 


600 


2 610 



An analysis of the above table showed clearly that trachoma^^ was the 
most prevalent eye disease and was predominant in certain areas. Out 
of 2 610 eye conditions, 641 were diagnosed as trachoma, i.e. 24,6 per 
cent. In certain districts such as Louis Trichardt the percentage was 
muchi higher. Out of 896 cases with some or other eye disease, 428 
proved to be sufferers of trachoma, namely 47,8 per cent. 

As a result of the findings obtained from the initial surveys the Di- 
rector, assisted by the ophthalmologists, had already begun to devise 
plans for the treatment of at least some of the most urgent cases. In this 
connection he wrote as follows: 

"Wherever possible, cases have been referred to hospitals for 
treatment, but facilities for eye cases are hopelessly inadequate 
and many cases cannot be treated owing to non-existence of local 
facilities. With a comparatively small capital outlay, mobile field 
units can be inaugurated and a team of specially trained and 
selected workers under the direction of an ophthalmologist can 
do much to prevent blindness and save the country thousands of 
pounds per annum in blind pensions alone. Eighty per cent of the 
blindness amongst the non-Europeans is easily preventable."^^ 
It is significant that as early as 1947 consideration had already been 
given to the establishment of a mobile clinic, although it was only 
launched five years later, in 1952. 



287 



As more surveys were conducted, the problems connected with tra- 
choma began to unfold. In the tenth biennial report of the Council 
(1948-1949) data were gleaned from further surveys which had been 
conducted in eight areas. These included areas surrounding the fol- 
lowing cities, towns and regions: Potgietersrust, Sekukuniland, Warm- 
baths/Nylstroom, Kimberley, Bloemfontein, Alexandra Township 
(near Johannesburg), Langa/Bokmakierie (near Cape Town) and Leso- 
tho. In the three Northern Transvaal regions which were covered by 
these surveys, there were 2 928 cases of trachoma out of a total of 4 731 
persons who suffered from eye complaints, which means 61,9 per cent. 
With regard to the eight areas, there were 3 167 persons with trachoma 
out of a total of 5 933 suffering from eye diseases, i.e. 53,4 per cent. In 
the same report^^ an indication was given as to where treatment of eye 
conditions took plac6. At the hospital of the Elim Mission Station in 
Northern Transvaal facilities had been made available for eye cases. 
On the Witwatersrand additional facilities were brought into effect at 
the Baragwanath Hospital for Blacks. At the Kimberley hospital a part- 
time post of ophthalmologist was created by the Hospital Services of 
the Cape Province for the benefit of eye cases who had formerly been 
obliged to travel to Cape Town for treatment. One of the medical 
practitioners of the Jane Furse Mission Hospital in Sekukuniland had 
left for England to qualify as an ophthalmologist. The Palmer Hospital at 
Roodepoort had since its foundation (approximately five years earlier) al- 
ready treated more dian a thousand cases. Furthermore, societies for civi- 
lian blind came increasingly to the fore to make provision for prevention 
work as well as treatment of eye cases in their areas. 

It is therefore evident that the National Council, as well as the State 
Departments concerned, became thoroughly aware of the urgent need 
to launch a campaign for the prevention of blindness and the treat- 
ment of eye diseases among the Black people of this country, especially 
with regard to trachoma. 

It has already been stated that the Director in one of his reports re- 
ferred to the acquisition of a mobile field unit by which means treat- 
ment facilities could be brought to the patients. In connection with this 
we read the following in the minutes of the meeting of the Executive 
Committee held on 8 November 1948: 

"The Acting Chairman, in thanking the Director for his report, 
stressed the importance of a Mobile Field Unit, for which urgent 
representations had been made to the Department of Health for 



288 



the provision of £7 500 (R15 000) to finance such a unit." 

The representative of the Department of Native Affairs immediately 
reacted to this and strongly supported such a step. 

At this stage we must return for a while to the organizational and 
administrative aspects of the Bureau. 

It was stated earlier that an Advisory Bureau Committee had been 
appointed by the Executive Committee in November 1946, with the 
Director as convener. As the activities of the Bureau expanded the 
Executive Committee felt that the Committee should be enlarged to 
make it more representative. Six members would be elected by the 
Executive Committee and the Bureau Committee would be given the 
authority to co-opt a number of members. With the above in mind, the 
six members were elected at a meeting of the Executive committee held 
on 18 November 1948, and at its first meeting the Bureau Committee 
made its co-options. These consisted of ten honorary ophthalmolo- 
gists, two representatives of State Departments, one of the National _ 
Council of Women of South Africa, and four other persons, among 
whom was Mr C. B. Anderson, a member of the Committee of the 
Johannesburg Society to Help Civilian Blind. The Rev. A. W. Blaxall 
was elected as chairman. The Committee therefore consisted of 24 
members. 

According to the tenth biennial report of the Council (1948-1949) 
the Advisory Committee for the Prevention of Blindness (as it was offi- 
cially known) held twelve meetings during the previous two years, and 
concerned itself with the many aspects of the problem of prevention 
and conquest of blindness amongst all races in South Africa. 

The next election of the Committee took place at the biennial meet- 
ing of the Council on 18- 19 October 1950. The following persons were 
elected : 

Mr C. B. Anderson 

Dr M. Franks 

Mr D. N. Murray 

Miss A. M. Rogers 

Mr W. Cohen. 

At its first meeting held on 8 November 1950^^ the co-opted mem- 
bers were elected in the same way as in the case of the previous Com- 
mittee. 

A notable occurrence in connection with the Committee was the 
election of Mr C. B. Anderson as chairman. This can be considered the 



289 



beginning of a new era in the history of the Bureau for the Prevention 
of Bhndness. The fact that he has uninterruptedly acted as chairman up 
to the present, has over the past 30 years brought stabihty and continu- 
ity to the activities of the Bureau. His influence and stature in society 
has enhanced the prestige of the Bureau as well as that of the Council. 
In 1968 he was elected honorary life President of the National Council, 
an honour which he deserves by virtue of the outstanding services he 
has rendered for the advancement of the interests of the Council and 
the blind, in various fields. A more detailed account of his life and 
work will be given later. 

In the meantime the Bureau continued with its surveys. The average 
number which could be conducted per annum was six. This was 
understandable since intensive preparations had to be made for each 
tour. 

Before embarking on a tour Bantu Commissioners, District Sur- 
geons, chiefs and others in authority had to be approached and also 
visited. The Director took the lead and was assisted by Black social 
workers and field officers of the Council. Arrangements had to be 
made for transport and accommodation for the ophthalmic surgeons, 
the nurses and the officers of the Council. 

During the surveys which were conducted, treatment was often also 
given. If there was a hospital in the neighbourhood operations were 
performed there. The work, however, was often done under very diffi- 
cult conditions. In his plea for acquiring a mobile unit, the Director 
vsrites in a report to the Executive Committee for the period Septem- 
ber 1951 to February 1952 as follows:^* 

"The primitive conditions under which the work had to be com- 
pleted in the open veld, under a scorching sun in an area where 
there are no clinics, calls for a mobile unit to work in, as no pro- 
fessional officer can do justice to his task nor can he be expected 
to endure such physical hardships. Only Dr . . .'s deep interest in 
the work compelled him to carry on with the work from early 
morning till late at night, also covering long distances by car be- 
tween centres without any word of complaint. The Doctor also 
carried out a number of operations at the Mission HospitaF^ 
after the day's work." 
In reports of the Director and the field officer not only the eye con- 
ditions of the inhabitants of the areas visited were recorded, but also 
interesting data of an ecological and social nature. These included ob- 



290 



servations on matters such as agricultural conditions, the lack of water, 
the cultivability of the soil, the hygienic conditions of the people and 
even their daily diet. Matters such as superstition and the influence of 
the witch-doctor also received attention. 

Because of the need evident from some of the above remarks, a great 
deal of educational work was done through the distribution of pam- 
phlets and the giving of lectures by the Black field officer in the 
language of the people. 

The Mobile Unit 

Although the mission hospitals in the areas where eye conditions 
were the worst were prepared to improve their facilities so that opera- 
tions could be carried out by the ophthalmic surgeons in loco, the ur- 
gent need for a well equipped mobile eye unit was realised more and 
more. The Director, as instructed by the Bureau Committee, made in- 
quiries, and in the first place a used field unit from the Department of 
Defence was considered, but the idea was abandoned in view of the 
many problems which the conversion would entail. It was then decided 
to buy the chassis of a lorry upon which the unit could be built under 
the expert supervision of a committee of ophthalmologists. A Pretoria 
firm was commissioned, and it was a great day when the mobile eye 
unit of the Bureau was started on its mission by Mrs M. Malan, wife of 
the then Prime Minister, Dr D. F. Malan, from Church Square, Preto- 
ria, on 16 October 1952. 

With regard to the placing into service of the mobile field unit, the 
Director of the Bureau writes in the twelfth niennial report of the 
Council (1952-1954) as follows:^* 

"This is the first occasion diat treatment facilities for eye diseases have 
been brought to the very door, as it were, of patients living in isolated 
areas, die unit is accompanied by an eye surgeon, two ophthalmic 
nurses (one European and one Non- European) and a Non- Euro- 
pean social worker. As in all new ventures, there were inidal difficul- 
des in conducting the field service, but, with experience, diey have 
been largely overcome. At first it was not realised that major opera- 
tions could be carried out in die unit, and therefore die unit was not 
fully equipped for the work. But experience has shown that this can 
be done, and indeed excellent results have been obtained." 
Dr Esther Franks was requested by the chairman of the Bureau, Mr 
Colin Anderson, to accompany the mobile unit of its first tour as die oph- 



291 



thalmic surgeon. Sister J. Devis and Sister Priscilla Raborife accompanied 
her. The latter was obligingly provided from the Palmer Eye Hospital.^* It 
was decided to visit the area of Schildpadfontein (approximately 130 
kilometres north-west of Pretoria). The tour took place from 16 to 30 
October 1952. According to the records the adjoining Black areas of 
Ramanchane and Kalkfontein were also included. 

According to the records of the ophthalmic surgeon and Sister Devis 
dtie tour was a success. Of the 752 cases examined 512 received treat- 
ment, which included a number of minor operations. Dr Franks, in her 
report, stressed the fact that the value of a unit of this nature would be 
enhanced if the services of a full-time ophthalmologist could be ob- 
tained and a continuous service maintained. 

After it had become known that the mobile unit was in operation re- 
quests came from various quarters for visits to their areas. The Bureau 
was even approached by hospitals. A roster had thus to be drawn up. 
In doing so it had to be borne in mind that the mobile unit should also 
be made available to the other provinces and to all population groups. 

In the twelfth biennial report of the Council (1952-1954) detailed in- 
formation was supplied in connection with the ophthalmological ser- 
vices which had been rendered on the first six tours of the mobile unit. 
The areas were all situated in the Northern Transvaal, chiefly in Seku- 
kuniland. Two hospitals were included, the first being one at the Phila- 
delphia Mission Station at Dennilton (Groblersdal area) and the 
second at the Maandagshoek Mission Station (Sekukuniland). Only the 
total figures are given below: 

Number of patients examined 8 955 

Number with eye diseases 4 623 

Number treated 3 924 

Number of operations carried out 162 

Furthermore it can be stated that of the 4 623 cases with eye diseases, 
there were 2 166 with a diagnosis of "trachoma and complications of tra- 
choma", which means 40 per cent. Other eye diseases which were most 
common were conjunctivitis (1 018), cataract (220) and pterygium (201). 

Full-dme ophthalmologist 

As more tours were undertaken by the mobile unit, it became in- 
creasingly obvious that the services of a full-time ophthalmologist was 
an urgent necessity. The Bureau Committee therefore decided to make 



292 



a recommendation to the Executive Committee for the establishment 
of such a post, and nominated a sub-committee consisting of four 
ophthalmic surgeons to draw up a memorandum in connection with 
the matter. 

The memorandum not only served as a motivation for the appoint- 
ment of a full-time eye specialist, but also contained an informative re- 
view of the services which had thus far been rendered, where the diffi- 
culties had occurred, what facilities existed, and how these could be 
improved. Furthermore the role of the full-time ophthalmologist was 
oudined as against that of the part-time one. 

In this connection the memorandum stated that in the case of the 
full-time eye specialist, it would be possible to establish a continuous 
service where there would be no interruptions and where the medical 
aftercare and follow-up work could be more effectively organised. In 
the case of the part-time ophthalmic surgeon it could happen that the 
latter might be urgently recalled to his practice while in the midst of an 
operation programme. Such a state of affairs could leave a number of 
frustrated and disappointed patients behind. For this reason no long- 
term programme could be planned. With regard to the effective and 
continuous use of the mobile unit, the memorandum states the follow- 
ing: 

"Some diseases, like trachoma, require longer treatment to be ef- 
fectively cured. If the unit can remain in an area for the required 
length of time, not only can it clear a whole area of trachoma, but 
can eliminate a potential reservoir of infection to other areas." 
Besides all the advantages mentioned in the memorandum with re- 
gard to the appointment of a full-time eye specialist, it affects another 
matter which is closely connected with the entire question of a suitable 
programme for the prevention of blindness. It is namely the serious 
situation which arose after the Department of Health had withdrawn 
its subsidies for surveys, although the Department was prepared to 
subsidise the costs connected with the mobile unit. In the event of the 
surveys having to be suspended owing to the lack of funds, it would 
leave a serious gap with regard to information concerning the pre- 
vailing eye diseases, especially in areas which had not yet been visited. 
It was ascertained that even in the areas where surveys had been con- 
ducted and treatment administered, there were still cases needing 
treatment. This was proved by admissions from those areas to the 
Palmer Eye Hospital. As an annexure to the memorandum a list of 22 



293 



areas was attached where treatment was required for a total of 8 581 
cases. 

An important advantage which the appointment of a full-time oph- 
thalmologist would bring would be the drawing up of a programme 
for the education of the general public by means of lectures, the pro- 
duction and showing of films, the distribution of pamphlets, and so 
forth. For the part-time eye specialist it would be impossible to find 
the time for this. 

The memorandum concludes with an exposition of the costs at- 
^tached to the management of such a full-time ophthalmological ser- 
vice. 

The memorandum was submitted to the Executive Committee at a 
meeting held 24-25 March 1953, and a twofold resolution was 
adopted: firstly, that the appointment of a full-time ophthalmologist 
be approved in principle, subject to the subsidisation of such a post by 
the Department of Health, and secondly, that the Bureau Committee 
approach the St. John Ophthalmic Hospital authorities to ascertain 
whether a full-time ophthalmic surgeon could be appointed jointly by 
the Bureau and the St. John Hospital. 

The question of the joint appointment of an ophthalmic surgeon by 
the St. John Hospital and the Bureau was discussed at a meeting of the 
Bureau Committee held on 23 April 1953. The unanimous opinion 
was that it would not serve any good purpose, and that the idea should 
be abandoned. It was also resolved to continue with representations to 
the Department of Health for the subsidisation of the post of eye 
specialist.^' 

After lengthy negotiations the Department of health agreed to subsi- 
dise 87,5 per cent of the costs connected with the mobile unit, up to a 
fixed ceiling. This could include the salary of the full-time ophthalmo- 
logist. By virtue of this, the Executive Committee granted the Bureau 
permission to continue with the appointment of a full-time ophthal- 
mic surgeon. 

The post was advertised in local and British medical journals, 
among others in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, London, Eng- 
land. The closing date was 15 March 1955. Three applications were re- 
ceived, but the sub-committee which had been appointed to study the 
applications recommended that no appointment be made. 

After this Dr H. W. Harris, ophthalmic surgeon of the Jane Furse 
Memorial Hospital, a mission hospital in the Northern Transvaal, inti- 



294 



mated that he was prepared to accept the post. In view of the fact that 
Dr Harris was well-known for the excellent work he had done, he was 
considered to be a satisfactory applicant and was appointed to the 
post.^2 He assumed duty on 3 January 1956, almost three years after the 
appointment of a full-time eye surgeon had been approved. Dr Harris, 
however, occupied the post for only seven months and left the service 
of the Council on 31 July 1956. 

The events which followed indicate that a full-time ophthalmic ser- 
vice never really got under way. Great pains were taken to obtain suit- 
able applicants, but after they had accepted the post and were appar- 
ently well settled, they resigned. All had come from overseas. The 
situation worsened to such an extent that in the past eight years there 
has been no full-time eye surgeon on the staff of the Bureau. 

After Dr Harris' departure the post was again advertised, but no ap- 
plications were received. In desperation it was then decided to ap- 
proach Mr (later Sir) John Wilson, Director of the British Com- 
monwealth Society for the Blind in London, for advice with regard to 
the advertising of the post in other parts of the British Com- 
monwealth. ^^In spite of this the reaction to the advertisements was dis- 
appointing. 

At this stage the opinion was expressed that the salary for such an 
important post was inadequate, and that this might possibly have been 
the reason why so few applicants had come forward. After the Execu- 
tive Committee had approved a better salary and increased subsidies, 
the post was once more advertised. An application was received from 
Dr T. Hildebrand of Germany. After a proper inquiry had been made, 
he was appointed.^* 

A problem arose, however, with regard to his registration with the 
S.A. Medical and Dental Council to practise as a doctor in South Af- 
rica. Discussions then took place with the South African Institute for 
Medical Research, Johannesburg, with the result that Dr Hildebrand 
was registered via this body on the understanding that he worked as an 
eye specialist for the Bureau only.^^ His registration came into effect 
from 1 1 February 1969, and on that day he assumed duty with the Bu- 
reau. 

Dr Hildebrand remained for seven months only, and after the ter- 
mination of his service on 30 November 1960, he returned to 
Germany. 

The post was again advertised and Dr P. D. Scheffel, also from 



295 



Germany, was appointed. He assumed duty on 1 1 December I960." As in 
the case of his predecessor, he had to be satisfied with restrictive regis- 
tration. According to reports he did good work in the field of the pre- 
vention of bhndness, and apphed himself especially to the study of tra- 
choma. 

As part of his duties he was appointed in a counselling capacity with 
the S.A. Institute for Medical Research in connection with the research 
project on trachoma which was being conducted at the time. It was ini- 
tiated by Dr J. Graham Scott^^ who was in charge of the project for 
mass treatment of trachoma in the Northern Transvaal. Regret was ex- 
pressed by the Bureau when Dr Scheffel resigned at the beginning of 
1963, to accept a position at the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.). 

The following full-time ophthalmic surgeon to be appointed was Dr 
R. Schoyerer. He also came from Germany originally, and was practis- 
ing in Ghana when he applied for the post. Since it was essential for 
him to be registered as a medical pratctitioner, the University of the 
Witwatersrand appointed him on their staff, and seconded him to the 
Bureau. 3^ He assumed duty on 5 April 1965.*<^ 

Dr Schoyerer remained with the Bureau for less than a year, and ter- 
minated his service at the end of March 1966. 

Following this four years elapsed before the next appointment was 
made. 

At a meeting of the Bureau Committee held on 1 September 1969, a 
letter was read from Dr M. N. Fournier of Tripoli in which she applied 
for the post of opthalmologist. She was Dutch. The Bureau was sat- 
isfied with her application, but since a personal interview was impossi- 
ble, she was appointed provisionally for a period of six months. At the 
end of the period it was expected of her to sign a contract for a further 
term of office of eighteen months. She assumed duty on 28 January 
1970,*' but left the service of the Bureau after eight months, on 9 Oc- 
tober 1970.^^2 She then accepted a post at the University of the Wit- 
watersrand as a registrar in the ophthalmological department. She 
continued to serve the Bureau in an honorary capacity, and accompa- 
nied the mobile unit on several occasions. 

The post was advertised three times after that, and two applications 
were received, one from Canada and the other from Istanbul. No ap- 
pointment was made.*^ 

After this no further attempts were made to obtain the services of a 
full-time ophthalmologist for the Bureau. 



296 



In spite of this state of affairs the Bureau went from strength to 
strength with its essential task of preventing bHndness and restoring 
sight, both in this country and in some of our neighbouring states. For 
this important work the Bureau, in course of time, received inter- 
national recognition from several sources. In this connection we can 
refer to the appointment of Mr Wentworth as a member of the Com- 
mittee for the Prevention of Blindness of the World Council for the 
Welfare of the Blind at its conference held in 1964 in New York. More 
recent proof of the deep appreciation which our Bureau for the Pre- 
vention of Blindness enjoys internationally is to be found in a letter 
which the Director of the National Council (Mr William Rowland) re- 
ceived in 1977 from Sir John Wilson,'^'^ President of the International 
Agency for the prevention of Blindness. The letter dealt with South Af- 
rica's status at the forthcoming international congress for the preven- 
tion of blindness which was to be held at Oxford from 6-8 July 1978. 
After Sir John had expressed his pleasure at the National Council's de- 
cision to participate in the Conference he explained the procedure with 
regard to the credentials of each National Committee in the world. In 
this connection he writes: 

"National Committees or Commissions have, in fact, been 
formed in the past three years in more than 40 countries. Very 
few of them are as well established as yours and, as you will ima- 
gine, the problem of sorting out their credentials is somewhat 
complex . . . Knowing of the work and composition of your Pre- 
vention of Blindness Bureau, I have no hesitation in recommend- 
ing to the Credentials Committee that it should be recognised as 
the National Committee for South Africa." 

He concluded this part of his letter as follows : 

"We certainly hope that South Africa can be fully represented as 
you have an outstanding story to tell." 

The success of the Bureau in the prevention of eye diseases, especially 
trachoma, is due to the expertise, efficiency and dedication to duty of the 
great number of opthalmologists of our country who are prepared to col- 
laborate with the central administration of the Bureau so that the preven- 
tive work can be carried out in an organised manner. The basis for diis sy- 
tematic approach by the ever growing group of prefessional men was laid 
by the first Director of the Bureau, Mr S. K. Wentworth. The efficiency with 
which he had organised the mobile unit fi:-om its inception was continued 



297 



by his successors. This tradition of reliable and capable organization is still 
maintained at the present day. 
Extensive tours 

We have heretofore only touched upon die first six toursof die mobile 
unit after it had been launched in October 1952. These tours were the fore- 
runners of numerous others which were undertaken in different parts of 
the country and also in our neighbouring states. At die dme of wridng, at 
die beginning of 1979, tour number 262 has been completed. 

The accepted procedure is that a comprehensive report of each tour 
.is submitted, which firstly includes data with regard to the padents 
who have been operatively or otherwise treated. Then the statistics re- 
lating to the various eye diseases which have been found are tabulated. 
Following this the field officer gives an account of other aspects of the 
tour, such as its organizadon, aid from state departments, co-oper- 
adon with mission hospitals and the general social and financial pos- 
idon of the population. All this indicates that the reports cover a wide 
spectrum of the weal and woe in the lives of the population groups. 

A cursory glance at the numerous data which are included in the ta- 
bles and records of the various tours shows firstly that an excepdonally 
wide geographical field was covered. During the first decade of the 
existence of the mobile unit the Northern Transvaal was given prefer- 
ence in view of the high incidence of trachoma in that area. During 
1960-1962 tours were also conducted in other parts of the Transvaal, 
such as Komadpoort, Lichtenburg and Soekmekaar. Visits were paid 
to Mafeking (twice) and Sterkspruit in the Cape Province, Ladysmith in 
Natal and Transkei.*^ 

Following this, considerable attention was given to the Free State 
and Northern Cape. During the period 1962-1964, amongst other 
places, Vryburg and Kuruman as well as Thaba 'Nchu were visited. In 
the ensuing period (1964-1966) North and North East Free State, Wel- 
kom, Virginia, Bloemfontein and Theunissen received visits. During 
1966 to 1970 wide-spread areas were attended to, such as Randfontein, 
Kimberley, Ciskei, Grahamstovm, Witsieshoek in the Qwa-Qwa 
homeland, Chatsworth, an Indian area near Durban, and the southern 
areas of South West Africa. In the meantime the unit continually re- 
turned to the Northern Transvaal where some of the badly affected 
areas were visited up to three times. 

From 1974 onwards South West Africa received an appreciable 
number of visits. Two tours were conducted to Ovamboland and in 



298 



July 1975 Rehoboth, Walvis Bay, Usakos and Swakopmund were also 
included. A comprehensive survey of the eye conditions among the 
Bushmen of South West Africa had been conducted prior to that. 

As a result of the increasing demands being made on the mobile unit 
and the extensiveness of the area in which it operated, the Bureau 
Committee came to the conclusion that a second mobile unit, accom- 
panied by a second ophthalmic team, should be placed in the field. In 
connection with this the chairman of the Bureau reported to the 23rd 
biennial meeting of the Council, held in October 1976, as follows: 
"At the time of the 22nd Conference plans were being discussed 
for the estabUshment of a second Bureau team, and provisional 
cost calculations were laid before the Conference. Now two years 
later I wish to report that a handsome contribution of R20 000 by 
the St. John Ophthalmic Foundation has made possible the pur- 
chase of all the equipment for the second unit. In recognition of 
this splendid gesture, this unit will be known as the 'St. John Eye 
Unit'. Staff to man the unit have been appointed, and the first 
tour has been organised to cover the Swellendam/Barrydale areas 
during May 1976. The establishment of the second unit carries 
the blessing of the Department of Health, who have agreed to 
subsidise its activities to the extent of seven-eighths up to R40 000 
per annum. With the second unit in operation, the possibility of 
doubling the operations of the Bureau would become a reality 
which should stand particularly the Coloured and Indian com- 
munities in good stead, as the second unit will probably devote 
most of its time to them."*^ 
As a result of this arrangement many towns and districts in the 
South and South-Western Cape as well as in the Middle and Eastern 
Karoo were visited. Besides Swellendam and Barrydale, which have al- 
ready been mentioned, the following names appear in the records: De 
Aar, Prieska, Middelburg (Cape), Colesburg, i Steynsburg, Hofmeyr, 
GraafF-Reinet, Somerset East, Jansenville, Murraysburg, Aberdeen, 
Beaufort West and Bredasdorp. The work on these tours was chiefly 
done among the Coloured people. 

With regard to the Indians, we find that tours were conducted by the 
St. John unit at Stanger, Lenasia (schools) and Tongaat. A feature of 
the work among the Indians in Natal is the conducting of day clinics in 
various country towns. Indian ophthalmologists take turns to do the 
work. Furthermore it can be stated that an Indian nurse has been ap- 



299 



pointed to assist the eye specialists at the day dinics and to do the fol- 
low-up work. She also makes arangements for the ophthalmic treat- 
ment in hospitals of Indian patients whom she discovers in the country 
districts. 

In later years the function of the mobile unit changed in some ways. 
As more hospitals and clinics were established in outlying areas, and as 
existing hospitals became better equipped, eye patients were admitted 
to these institutions for treatment. The operations were usually per- 
formed by honorary ophthalmologists of the Bureau, who at the same 
time made use of the opportunity to impart some of their knowledge 
to the staff of such a hospital by means of lectures, talks and the show- 
ing of slides. Over the years a very good understanding was built up 
between the Bureau and the Mission hospitals. In this connection we 
quote the following from the 22nd report (1972-1974) of the Council: 
''Where previously it was necessary, because of lack of adequate 
specialised hospital facilities, to send the Bureau's mobile theatre 
to numerous Bantu areas, it is now, with the advent of more 
Mission hospitals, only necessary to send the Bureau team to 
those hospitals which provide all the facilities required. The mo- 
bile theatre is only used in outlying areas not yet served by 
Mission hospitals."*' 
The detailed records of the eye specialists and field officers of the more 
than 260 tours of the mobile units include an astonishing amount of 
statistical data. When studying these statistics one is initially struck by 
the immensity of the task which the Bureau has undertaken over the 
past thirty- three years. Furthermore, by way of comparison, the re- 
cords provide conclusive proof that there has been a considerable de- 
crease in the incidence of certain eye diseases, especially those caused 
by infection. Moreover, it can also be deduced from the records that 
numerous persons have regained their sight as a result of operative 
treatment such as, for example, the removal of cataracts. 

Whereas the reports of the ophthalmologists are written in a more 
professional vein, the field officers give, among other things, a survey 
of the organizational aspects of the tours and the circumstances under 
which the work was done. In their reports we read of long, fatiguing 
motor journeys along practically impassable roads, through swollen 
rivers and uninhabitable bush regions; of long queues of people at 
field clinics; of examinations, treatment, and operations from early 
morning until late at night, even over weekends. We read of a nurse at- 



300 



tached to the unit who became infected with trachoma, fortunately 
without any detrimental results. However, we also read about the joy 
of people whose physical suffering was alleviated, or whose vision was 
partially or fully restored after years of blindness. 

Mass Trachoma Campaign 

Owing to the excessively high incidence of trachoma which was found 
among Black children in certain areas of the Northern Transvaal the 
Bureau decided to launch an intensive trachoma treatment project. 
The teachers of approximately 150 Black schools were to be asked to 
assist in the scheme. They weje to receive careful instructions in con- 
nection with the application at fixed times of an antibiotic ointment to 
the eyes of their young pupils. 

The campaign was initiated in 1955 by Dr J. Graham Scott and Dr I. 
B. Taylor, and after the departure of Dr Taylor it was continued by Dr 
Scott. The latter supervised the professional aspect, namely the pre- 
scription of the ointment, the times of application, and the quantities. 
He also studied the results meticulously. For a more explicit descrip- 
tion of the extent of the project, and the results obtained, we quote the 
following passage from the fifteenth biennial report of the Council 
(1958-1960): 

"The method of mass treatment in the field was initiated and 
supervised by two members of the Bureau committee, Dr J. Gra- 
ham Scott and Dr I. B. Taylor, and their experiments showed ob- 
vious success, in fact, one might say dramatic success. The experi- 
ment was confined to babies and school children, and it showed 
that the incidence of trachoma can be reduced over a three year 
period to negligible proportions by the use of 1% chlorampheni- 
col ointment three times daily for three days in each month dur- 
ing the summer. The treatment of babies during that period 
showed a drop (in the disease) from 63% to 1796, but unfortu- 
nately when treatment ceased, the incidence reverted to the orig- 
inal figure in babies but not in school children. Re-infection oc- 
curred among the babies but not among the school children — so 
it is advised that mass treatment be confined to schools and that 
Bantu field workers advise mothers how to treat their babies."** 
The project assumed such large proportions that a field officer of the 
Bureau was permanently assigned the task of supervising it. Later on 
some of the Black social workers were also called in to assist with the 



301 



project. In the nineteenth biennial report of the Council (1966-1968) it 
was stated that at that stage already 48 000 Black pupils from 120 
schools had received treatment. In the same report it was also stated 
that the then Department of Bantu Education had agreed to the con- 
ducting of a trachoma survey in the urban Black schools of the South- 
ern Transvaal area. This announcement was welcomed by the Bureau. 

According to the reports there is indisputable proof that the inten- 
sive treatment which had been given, had drastically reduced the inci- 
dence of trachoma. In the 23rd biennial report of the council (1974- 
1976) it was stated that trachoma amongst school children in the Pot- 
gietersrust/Pietersburg area had been reduced to 5 per cent.*^ In July 
1974 the trachoma team moved from the Potgietersrust/Pietersburg 
area to Elim and Tshilidzini,5o where the infection was found to be 49,2 
per cent and 42,5 per cent respectively among the school children who 
had been examined. With regard to this matter, the 23rd biennial re- 
port states the following: 

"The Department of Health introduced a health training pro- 
gramme as a follow-up to medical treatment of trachoma to 
combat infection, and resultant figures after a year showed the 
rate of infection had dropped to between 1296 and 18% 
Through the medium of the schools, the forming of local com- 
mittees was encouraged to ensure, as far as possible, continuation 
of work started with."^' 
The campaign against trachoma is conducted by the Bureau in colla- 
boration with the Department of Health. 

Research 

As a result of the high incidence of trachoma in the northern areas of 
the country the Bureau decided to request the S.A. Institute for Medi- 
cal Research in Johannesburg to do research in connection with the 
disease. The objective was firsdy to isolate the trachoma virus and after 
that to develop a vaccine which could be applied to cure the disease, or 
if possible, to eradicate it completely. 

At a meeting of the Bureau Committee held on 21 June 1956 the Di- 
rector reported that the Board of Trustees of the Institute had ap- 
proved such a research project. It would be placed under the personal 
supervision of DrJ. Gear, head of the Institute. The Nadonal Council 
granted a sum of £l 000 (R2 000) for this purpose. 

With regard to the isolation of the trachoma virus, Dr W. Cohen, 



302 



acting chairman of the National Council, writes as follows in the six- 
teenth biennial report of the Council (1960-1962): 

"Considering that our resources are distinctly limited, it is grati- 
fying to record the progress made in South Africa with research 
into the eye disease which causes more ravages than any other in 
the world, viz. trachoma. We hold the distinction of being one of 
the three countries which succeeded in isolating the trachoma 
virus. We have conducted experiments which have enjoyed inter- 
national acclaim. An eminent opthalmologist who serves on the 
Bureau Committee has been able to tell of our work at inter- 
national conferences on trachoma and to point to the leading 
role played by South Africa in this study." 
The next step in the research programme was the development of a 
vaccine to combat the trachoma virus. In order to obtain this, tests had 
to be carried out on the eyes of humans. The procedure would be to 
infect them with trachoma and then by applying the vaccine, to ascer- 
tain whether healing could be effected. The Bureau advertised for vol- 
unteers and 25 persons came forward. Finally three were used in the 
experiment, one sighted and two blind persons. Everywhere expecta- 
tions were high that we were on the threshold of a great break-through 
with regard to die eradication of the dreaded trachoma,^^ but unfortu- 
nately this was not realised. In this connection the chairman of the Bu- 
reau Committee reported as follows in the nineteenth biennial report 
of the Council (1966-1968): 

"Research continues into the manufacture of a preventive vaccine 
at the virus laboratories of the S.A. Institute for Medical Re- 
search. Results have unfortunately not fulfilled early encouraging 
results and modifications in the strength of the vaccine are now 
being made. It is hoped that this pioneering work will produce 
results in due course." (Page 36). 
This was the situation at the end of the year 1968. Two years later, 
however, in the twentieth biennial report (1968-1970), we are in- 
formed by the chairman that: 

"Unfortunately the vaccine to prevent trachoma had proved to be 
disappointing and it was decided that it was not worthwhile pur- 
suing this aspect of the work, but that it could be accepted that 
the treatment with antibiotics had at least had the effect of cur- 
bing trachoma." (Page 48). 
It may be of interest to conclude this part of the Bureau's history 



303 



which deals with the activities of the mobile unit with a passage from 
an interview which Mr S. K. Wentworth had with the S.A. Digest in 
1972. It appeared in the form of an article in Imfama in February 1972 
under the caption: New Light in the Homelands: 

"But we had a lot of prejudice to overcome in the remote areas 
before the blind would readily present themselves for treatment. 
There was the case of the sightless witchdoctor who paid a sur- 
reptitious visit to the mobile unit. He told us he wanted to be 
operated on in secret so his 'patients' would never suspect that he 
had lost faith in his own muti (medicine). The operation was a 
complete success, and the tribe soon realised what had happened. 
Almost immediately we were inundated by a flood of patients. In 
this way the Bantu gained implicit faith in the ability of our own 
'medicine men' to restore the sight of the blind." 
Answering a question on the number of persons who had regained 
their sight, Mr Wentworth replied as follows: 

"Since the mobile unit was launched in October 1952 we've per- 
formed 1 1 790 successful major eye operations on Bantu patients. 
Of these 8 402 had cataracts in both eyes and were therefore 
blind. Every single one of these can now see again. Of the re- 
mainder who suffered from other eye ailments, many of them got 
their sight back." 
Such were the circumstances in 1972, after the mobile unit had been 
in the field for twenty years. 

Industrial ophthalmology 

Shortly after the establishment of the Bureau in 1946 the then Direc- 
tor, Mr S. K. Wentworth, campaigned for measures for the protection 
of the eyes of factory workers. He regularly exhibited safety devices at 
shows, such as various types of spectacles and eye shields. Posters were 
displayed to warn against eye accidents in factories. The question of 
lighting in factories, for instance on work-benches and assembly lines, 
also received attention. In connection with the protection of the eyes in 
industry, we quote the following from a report by die Director of the 
Bureau, dated 16 September 1947^^: 

"The Department of Labour has been most helpful and co-ope- 
rative and arrangements have been worked out whereunder the 
Director can attend as many eye accidents inquiries as his duties 
will permit. Firms are also informed that they can obtain propa- 



304 



ganda posters from the Bureau and that the director, whenever 
possible, will make himself available for organised lectures for 
the benefit of workmen and managements on the subject of eye 
hazards in Industry." 
Full particulars of eye accidents sustained in factories, as recorded 

by the Workmen's Compensation Commissioner, are recounted in the 

above report.^* 

As time went on the question of safeguarding the eyesight of factory 
workers increasingly required the attention of the Bureau, so that it 
was decided to recommend to the Executive Committe that a con- 
ference on industrial ophthalmology be convened. The necessary funds 
were approved and the conference took place in Johannesburg from 
10 to 12 November 1958. 

The published report on the conference with the title : Proceedings of 
the First Conference on Industrial Ophthalmology, appeared in 1960. The 
theme of the conference was: "Prevention of eye accidents," but a 
much wider field was covered, inasmuch as factory lighting, street 
lighting, colour vision, colours in industry, and the rehabilitation of 
the newly blinded worker were dealt with. Nevertheless, the majority 
of the addresses, and the discussions which followed, had a bearing on 
the causes of eye injuries in the factory situation and how these could 
be avoided. Examples of subjects were: Eye Injuries in Industry, Toxic and 
Chemical Injuries of the Eyes, Bums of the Eyes and their Modem Treatment, 
Radiation Effects on the Eyes in Industry. Therefore it is clear that the ad- 
dresses had a direct bearing on what could be expected in practice. An 
address was also delivered on Eyesight and the Ageing Worker, in which 
stress was laid on the inportanceof regular eye tests for ageing workers 
and the correct spectacles. 

An important aspect of the conference was the attendance of two 
eminent ophthalomogists from abroad, who had been invited to de- 
liver addresses. One was Dr Ralph Ryan, M. D. of Morgantown, West 
Virginia, U.S.A., and the other was Dr B. W. Rycroft, O.B.E., F.R.C.S. 
of the Corneo- Plastic Unit, East Grinstead, England. The opening ad- 
dress was delivered by Senator J. de Klerk, Minister of Labour. 

Although the conference took place twenty years ago, the content of 
the report is still of value at the present day. It is interesting that in the 
report mention was made of the first conference, as if further similar 
conferences would be held. Up to the present, however, this has not 
materialised, and the conference in question was the only one held. 



305 



Corneal Grafting 

In the case of certain eye conditions, corneal grafting is an effective 
operative method for the recovery of sight. The operation is being suc- 
cessfully performed in South Africa. For such an operation cadaver 
material must be obtained, which involves certain legal implications. 
Thus the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness shortly after its estab- 
lishment devoted its attention "to the question of amending the Anat- 
omy Act of 1911, in order to ensure that sufficient material is available 
to eye surgeons for performing corneal grafting". The result was 
that, in collaboration with the Ophthalmological Society of South Af- 
rica, the Bureau succeeded in having the Post Mortems and Removal 
of Human Tissues Act, 1952 (Act No. 30 of 1952) passed by Parlia- 
ment. 

The first reference to corneal grafting and the acquirements of ca- 
daver material is found in the minutes of the meeting of the Executive 
Committee held on 6 and 7 October 1949. The relevant item in the 
minutes reads as follows: 

"It was agreed to meet the request of the Ophthalmological So- 
ciety and to take steps to have the law amended to remove the 
serious medico-legal difFuculties which stand in the way of ob- 
taining corneal graft material from cavader."(Page 13). 
This resolution resulted from the Bureau's report which had been 
submitted to the meeting of the Executive Committee. 

After the passing of the Act, the next step was to find corneal ma- 
terial, for which donors were necessary. Propaganda pamphlets are 
distributed from the Bureau office, and a form was drafted by a com- 
mittee of ophthalmologists to be completed by prospective eye donors. 
Initially permission was granted to place the pamphlets in the Johan- 
nesburg General Hospital. Later other hospitals also received the 
pamphlets, which were likewise sent to all eye specialists in the 
country. 

It was realised that the establishment of an eye bank was essential, 
but before this could materialise the Bureau office in Pretoria and the 
Cape Regional Office undertook the administrative aspect of the orga- 
nization. On the one hand contacts were made with hospitals, and on 
the other with the ophthalmologists, so as to ensure that the material 
reached its destination in time. 

The first eye bank was established in Port Elizabeth in 1962, with a 
legacy which had to be used specifically for this purpose. Later eye 



306 



banks w^re established in all large centres where corneal graft op- 
erations were performed. 

Human Genetics 

In its endeavour to promote all aspects of the prevention of blind- 
ness the Bureau Committee in 1963 decided to request the National 
Bureau for Educational and Social Research^' to conduct an in-depth 
investigation into the heredity factors which have a bearing on the 
causes of blindness. 

The request was granted, and Dr J. Op't Hof, 'n prominent geneti- 
cist, was commissioned to conduct the investigation.^* 

An Advisory Committee consisting of nine members was appointed, 
among whom were the Director of the National Bureau for Educa- 
tional and Social Research, Dr P. M. Robbertse, who presided as chair- 
man. Professor M. H. Luntz of the Department of Ophthalmology of 
the University of the Witwatersrand, Dr H. Meyer of the Department of 
Ophthalmology of the University of Pretoria, Professor J. D.J. Hof- 
meyr of the Department of Genetics of the University of Pretoria and 
representatives of the Departments of Health and Social Welfare and 
of the S.A. National Council for the Blind. 

In the report^^ which appeared after the work had been completed, it 
was stated that the investigation was conducted mainly at the School 
for the Blind, Worcester. Available data with regard to the eye con- 
ditions of all the pupils who had attended the school since its inception 
in 1881 to 1965, were examined. The number was 1 386. To these were 
added 31 adult persons who had not been pupils of the school. The 
sample therefore consisted of 1 417 persons. 

In the introduction the compiler reports the following: 

"This survey is the first of its kind in the Republic of South Africa 
and conclusive information has come to light, indicating the im- 
portance and necessity of further research and procedures to 
combat blindness and impaired vision." 
He ends the introduction to the report with the following remarks : 
"This report does not provide an answer to the problem of 
hereditary blindness but delineates the direction and importance 
of the necessary research to attain a further step in reaching this 
aim." 

The main sources of information for the researcher were the files 
which are kept for each child at the school. In addition interviews were 



307 



conducted with the staff of the school, the pupils who were at school at 
the time, and ex-pupils in the old age homes and workshops for the 
blind at Worcester, as well as with parents and relatives who were liv- 
ing in fifteen surrounding towns. 

The researcher had to cope with numerous problems in connection 
with the tracing of data on the eye conditions of the pupils, and es- 
pecially on the family relationships between parents, grandparents and 
forebears, which was necessary for establishing family pedigrees. 

He found, for example, that no records of pupils had been kept be- 
fore 1920. In this connection the report states: 

"Virtually no information concerning the relatives of the pupils 
was on record at the School for the Blind. However, by means of 
personal interviews, a total of 100 family pedigrees could be com- 
piled."^« 

In the first place the report supplied accurate statistics of the eye 
conditions of all the pupils of whom the data were available. The 
analyses of the deductions, which in some cases were of a highly tech- 
nical nature, followed. In this connection the compiler states the fol- 
lowing: 

"In most cases a recessive mode of inheritance was the cause of 
defective sight. Dominant modes of inheritance could be possible 
in two cases. In addition to these modes of inheritance others 
with a variable measure of penetrance and expressivity were en- 
countered."^^ 

Following upon this he gives in table 3.5 data in connection with the 
causes of blindness which are linked to diseases, and his finding con- 
cerning this was as follows: 

"The most outstanding features in Table 3.5 are that genetic 
origin of eye conditions was established in 26,04 per cent of the 
group investigated and in 18,21 per cent of the cases genetic 
origin was possible. "^^ 
Dr Op't Hof concluded his report with the measures which could be 
applied for the prevention of blindness, and in this connection only 
paragraph 5.2.3. (d) is quoted: 

"The detection of heterozygotes or carriers of different eye con- 
ditions is a most important factor in aiding genetic counsel- 
ling."«^ 

This genetic counselling which the investigator mentions in his re- 
port is of importance, especially in the case of prospective marriages. 



308 



Consequently the entire question of hereditary bUndness must also be 
seen from a social viewpoint. 

Administrative 

It is understandable that the administrative and organizational as- 
pects of the Bureau's activities are of the utmost importance for its suc- 
cessful functioning. As regards this facet of the work, everything re- 
volves round the chief officer.^* The Bureau was in general very suc- 
cessful with its appointments in this respect. 

We have previously indicated that the first officer of the Bureau to be 
appointed was Mr S. K. Wentworth, who laid the foundation for its 
success. Apart from his organising ability he was able to associate easily 
with senior state officials and in this way received considerable finan- 
cial aid on behalf of the Bureau. When he was promoted to Organising 
Secretary of the National Council in 1961, after the resignation of Mr 
D. J. van Wyk, Mr L. N. F. Pretorius, who was then already in the 
Council's employ, was appointed in his place. He was likewise an ef- 
ficient organiser who followed up the work of his predecessor with en- 
thusiasm. 

When Mr Pretorius left the service of the Council in 1964, he was 
succeeded by Mr N. A. Gaum. Less than a year later he was promoted 
to Deputy Director of the Council and Advocate B.C. MuUan was ap- 
pointed in his place. He assumed office on 1 December 1965 and was 
succeeded by Mr R. Francis on 1 July 1968. After two years of service 
the latter resigned on 31 May 1970. Mr P. D. Malan was then ap- 
pointed on 15 June 1970, but after only a few months he left the service 
of the Bureau. He was succeeded by Mr R. C. Oils who assumed office 
on 1 June 1971. 

During Mr Oils' period of service, the post of Bureau Administrative 
Officer was regarded to that of Assistand Director (Bureau) of the 
Council by reason of the important position which the Bureau occu- 
pied in the activities of the Council. Mr Oils was devoted to his work, 
and had outstanding organizational ability. 

He served the Bureau's cause convincingly on various occasions 
during deputations to provincial and state authorities. When he re- 
signed from the service of the Bureau on 30 October 1976, he was suc- 
ceeded by Mr S. J. van der Walt. The latter assumed office on 1 
November 1976 as the ofTicer-in-chief of the Bureau and Assistant Di- 
rector (Bureau) of the Council, and still occupies that position. At pre- 



309 



sent he is upholding the tradition of dedication and enthusiasm which 
characterised the former officers- in-chief of the Bureau since its estab- 
lishment in 1946. 

Mr Van der Walt had worked with Mr Oils for approximately ly 
years as his field officer, and had therefore gained valuable experience. 
Perhaps the following remark by Professor D. Sevel, head of the De- 
partment of Ophthalmology of the University of Cape Town, may be 
quoted here: 

"The success of this trip (to Upington and environs) was due to 
the organizational ability of Mr Oils and Mr Van der Walt. Their 
enthusiasm and sincerity was remarkably good."^^ 

Conclusion 

It is impossible to do justice in this brief survey to the important task 
which the Bureau has performed during the past thirty- three years. 
Quite apart from the happiness it has brought into the lives of in- 
numerable people, two achievements remain outstanding. In the first 
instance the Bureau, through its honorary ophthalmologists, contrib- 
uted in a high degree to the acquisition and development of ophthal- 
mological knowledge. Secondly, the Bureau was of great financial 
value to the country for it restored the sight of so many of its citizens 
who would otherwise have been a financial burden on the State. 

' Minutes of the Council Meeting held 20 March 1929, page 21, also recorded in the first biennial 
report (1929-1930) page 12. 

2 Mrs Horwood represented the Child Welfare Society of S.A. on the National Council. 

3 First minute book, page 179. 

4 Mr Kirstein was a blind physiotherapist, trained at St Dunstan's and a representative of the 
Transvaal Society for the Care of Non- European Blind. 

5 Perhaps I thenj 22 June 1939 shouldlbe\ regarded \ as 1 the inauguration date of the Bureau for the 
Prevention of Blindness. Yet few of its objectives and activities became realised during the war 
years (1939-1945). Therefore a fresh start to re-establish the Bureau was made near the end of 
the war in 1944. The inauguration date is generally given as 16 January 1946, the date when the 
first director of the Bureau reported for duty. 

6 The minutes of this meeting are no longer available, but in the sixth biennial report of the 
Council (1939-1940) a fairly complete account was given of the resolutions adopted by the 
meeting and the documentation in connection with them (page 20-21). It can also be assumed 
that the Department received its name at that meeting, namely the Bureau for the Prevention of 
Blindness. 

' Sixth biennial meeting of the Council, page 20. 

* Seventh biennial report of the Council (1941-1943), page 8. 

« Seventh biennial report, page 9. 

loAnnexure to the minutes of the seventh biennial meeting of the Council, held 17-18 October 
1944, pages 25-26. 

11 Dr P. Boshoff is a well-known ophthalmic surgeon in Johannesburg. He was one of the repre- 
sentatives of the Transvaal Society for the Care of Non-European Blind. He was the first oph- 
thalmic surgeon to attend a meeting of the National Council. 

12 Ezenzeleni, near Roodepoort, Transvaal, is the name of the place where the institution of the 



310 



20 



Transvaal Society for the Care of Non-European Blind was situated at the time of its establish- 
ment in 1937, and several years after. Later it was moved to Ga-Rankuwa. 

13 The name varied from Palmer Hostel to Palmer Hospital, Palmer Eye Hospital, and even 
Palmer Preventorium. (See Minutes of meeting of Executive Committee, 25 February 1948). 

14 The Battle for Light by A. W. Blaxall, page 9. 

15 The St John's Eye Hospital was opened near Johannesburg in 1951. 

16 December 1946. 

" Submitted to the meeting of the Executive Committee held 5-9 November 1946. 

18 The list of names of the ophthalmic surgeons appears as an annexure to the minutes of the 
meeting of the Executive Committee held 5 November 1945. They were from Cape Town (2), 
Durban (2), East London ( 1), Johannesburg (3), Pietermaritzburg ( 1), Port Elizabeth (1), Preto- 
ria (2). 

!9 Ninth biennial report of the Council (1946-1947), page 41. _, , r . t 

Trachoma is a disease which originates in the conjunctiva of the eye and can develop further. It 
is caused by a virus which is often transmitted by flies. Therefore it flourishes in unhygienic 
conditions. There are four stages of the disease, and it can lead to total blindness. Trachoma is 
also known as Egyptian disease, for it has been alleged that it spread from Egypt throughout 
Africa. 

21 Ninth biennial report of the National Council (1946-1947) page 41. 

22 Tenth biennial report of the Council (1948-1949), page 18. 

23 This meeting was recorded in the minutes as the 24th, and the Committee was then still known 
as "an advisory committee". From the 25th meeting "advisory" was omitted and it was then 
called the Committee for the Prevention of Blindness. The present name is: "Committee of the 
Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness". 

2* Meeting of Executive Committee held on 25-26 March 1952. 

25 Maandagshoek Mission Hospital in Sekukuniland, Northern Transvaal. 

26 An example of this is Survey Number 17. Report dated 28 February 1952. 

27 The Director's progress report submitted to the meeting of the Bureau Committee on 22 March 
1951. 

28 Twelfth biennial report of the Council (1952-1954), pages 18-19. 

29 In the minutes of the meeting of the Bureau Committee held 24 November 1952, we read the 
following: "It was further decided that the Palmer hostel be again approached and asked for 
the services of Bantu nurse Priscilla Raborife for the proposed trip and that a letter of apprecia- 
tion be written to the Transvaal Society for the Care of Non-European Blind for the very excel- 
lent services rendered by this nurse during the first trip of the unit". 

30 Minutes of a special meeting of the Bureau Committee, held 24 November 1952. (The question 
of a full-time ophthalmologist in the service of Council was to receive attention later.) 

31 Minutes of a meeting of the Committee of the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness, held 23 
April 1953, page 4. 

32 Minutes of meeting of Bureau Committee held 22 December 1955. 

33 Minutes of meenng of the Bureau Committee held 15 November 1956, page 5. 

34 Minutes of Bureau Committee of 10 December 1959. 

35 Minutes of Bureau meeting of 3 March 1960. 
*6 Minutes of Bureau meeting of 18 August 1960. 

37 Minutes of Bureau meeting of 16 February 1961. 

38 Dr Graham Scott is a member of the Bureau Committee and also of the "W.H.O. Expert Advi- 
sory Panel on Trachoma." 

39 Minutes of Bureau Committee meeting of 21 January 1965. 
40, Minutes of Bureau Committee meeting of 29 April 1965. 

41 Minutes of meeting of Bureau Committee held 12 March 1970. 

42 Agenda of Bureau Committee meeting of 15 October 1970, page 7. 

43 Agenda and minutes of meeting of the Bureau Committee held 25 February 1971. 

44 Sir John Wilson is the blind General Secretary of the British Commonwealth Society for the 
Blind. He is also the President of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, an 
organization which was established at the Conference of the World Council for the Welfare of 
the Blind in 1974 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Sir John has many contacts in south Africa, has already 
visited this country, and is well acquainted with our work here. 

45 According to tables included in the 16th biennial report of the Council (1960-1962). 

46 Twenty-third Biennial Report of the Council, page 29. 

47 Twenty-second biennial report of the National Council (1972-1974), page 39. 

48 Fifteenth biennial report of the National Council (1958-1960), page 14. 

49 It had receded from 35,4% to 5%. See Imfama Vol. VII, No. 1, December 1967, page 3: The Bu- 
reau for the Prevention of Blindness celebrates its coming of age, by H. A. Gaum. 



311 



^"Situated in the North-Eastern Transvaal. 

51 Twenty- third biennial report of the National Council (1974-1976), page 31. 
" Seventeenth biennial report of the National Council (1962-1964), page 14. 

53 Minutes of meeting of the Executive Committee 22-23 October 1947, annexure D. 

54 In his concluding address at the Conference on Industrial Ophthalmology (November 1958) Dr 
M. Franks mentioned that figures published by the Workmen's Compensation Commissioner 
indicated that more than 20 000 eye injuries occurred yearly in factories in the country at that 
time. 

"Tenth biennial report (1948-1949) page 21. 

56 The Ophthalmological Society of South Africa was granted representation on the National 
Council at a meeting of the Executive Committee held in March 1949, with one representative. 
Dr J. S. du Toit, a well-known ophthalmologist of Cape Town, was the Society's first represen- 
tative. 

57 At present called Human Sciences Research Council (H.S.R.C.) 

58 Dr Op't Hof is on the staff of the Department of Health at the present time. 

59 A survey of Hercdibary Blindness at the School for the Blind at Worcester. Research Series No. 
49. National Bureau of Educational and Social Research. 

60 A Survey of Hereditary Blindness, page 36. 

61 A Survey of Hereditary Blindness, etc., page 31. 

Survey of Hereditary Blindness, etc., page 17. 

63 A Survey of Hereditaty Blindness, etc., (page 23. 

64 The Chief Officer of the Bureau was initially called the Director. Later the name of the post was 
changed to the Bureau /ydministrative Officer when the Organising Secretary of the National 
Council received the designation of Director. 

65 Tour No. 190, 1-11 September 1974. 



312 



CHAPTER 12 



THE DIVISIONS FOR INDIAN AND 
COLOURED BLIND 

Emanating from Government policy by which each population group 
must be responsible for welfare work amongst its own handicapped, 
two divisions, namely the Division for Indian Blind and the Division 
for Coloured Blind, were established in 1968. The modus operandi for 
the implementation of the policy was laid down in Circular No. 29 of 
1966 which was received from the Department of Social Welfare and 
Pensions. A second circular was issued in 1978 (No. 65 of 1978) which 
contained a somewhat different view regarding the structure of the 
National Council. This is at present being studied by an ad hoc com- 
mittee of the Council. The Divisions have however been established in 
accordance with the instructions set down in the first circular. No. 29 
of 1966. Perhaps is it necessary at this stage to state the policy as set 
forth in the second circular (No. 65 of 1978): 

"As welfare work is of and for the community and as the welfare 
of the various population groups can accordingly best be served 
and promoted by their own organizations, the ideal still remains 
to establish and maintain separate welfare organizations for the 
various population groups at national, as well as regional and 
local levels." 

After receipt of the first circular a sub-committee was appointed to 
study the implications of the instructions. The report of this sub-com- 
mittee, as well as other matters relating to the implementation of the 
policy, were fully discussed at meetings of both the Executive Commit- 
tee and the Council, held in October i966. It was resolved to request 
the various organizations of the two population groups to meet, with a 
view to establishing interim Divisions until the necessary amendments 
to the constitution could be introduced to authorise the establishment 
of the Divisions. Three persons were appointed to act as advisers to the 



313 



organizations. They were Mr A.B.W. Marlow for the Coloured group 
and Dr W. Cohen and Mr V.H. Vaughan for the Indian group. 

By virtue of the fact that at that time there were no organizations ex- 
clusively controlled by Blacks no interim Division could be established 
for that population group. 

It should be mentioned here that the new dispensation met with 
some opposition from various quarters. The circular stipulated that 
representatives of the Divisions could attend meetings of the Executive 
Committee only, and then only when matters relating to the Divisions 
were discussed. It was felt that they should also be allowed to attend 
Council meetings and meetings of the special committees in order to 
obtain the necessary training which was advocated by the circular^ it- 
self. Later on, however, they were allowed to attend meetings of both 
the Executive Committee and the Council by a ruling of the Chairman 
of Council. 

Interim Division for Indian Blind 

A preliminary meeting of the representatives of the Natal Indian 
Blind Society and the Arthur Blaxall School for the Blind^ with the two 
advisers of Council was held in Durban on 25 February 1967.^ In addi- 
tion to the two advisers the following were present: 

Mr CM. Bassa — Arthur Blaxall School for the Blind and Natal 

Indian Blind Society 

Miss C.J. King — Arthur Blaxall School for the Blind 
Mr B.C. Nursoo — Arthur Blaxall School for the Blind 
Mr C. Nayanah - Arthur Blaxall School for the Blind and Natal 
Indian Blind Society. 
Dr Cohen was elected chairman. 

At the beginning of the meeting the position of the Coloured and 
Indian Blind Welfare Association was discussed. The consensus of 
opinion was that, in view of the fact that the Society comprised two 
population groups (Indian and Coloured), it could not affiliate to the 
Division for Indian Blind. Mr Bassa, on behalf of the two Indian orga- 
nizations, offered to co-opt an Indian representative on to the Division 
for Indian Blind. 

After various aspects of the establishment of a Division for Indian 
Blind had been discussed, a proposal consisting of seven paragraphs 
was adopted. The first paragraph read as follows: 
"It was resolved 



314 



That the Natal Indian Blind Society and the Arthur Blaxall 
School for the Blind agree to the establishment of the Indian Af- 
fairs Division of the South African National Council for the 
Blind, which will be called Division of Indian Affairs, South Afri- 
can National Council for the Blind." 
The other paragraphs concerned procedures and administrative 
matters, except paragraph three in which it was requested that the rep- 
resentatives of the Division be allowed to attend meetings of all special 
committees of the Council. 

These proposals and other matters in connection with the Division 
were laid before a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Council, 
held 27 — 28 April 1967. Mr Bassa was present as the representative of 
the Interim Division for Indian Blind.* The Chairman of Council ex- 
pressed his appreciation towards the Indian societies for their co-oper- 
ation in connection with the establishment of a Division for Indian 
Blind. They were requested to continue to take the lead in convening a 
foundation meeting. 

Following on this the Natal Indian Blind Society convened a meeting 
for 30 March 1968. At this meeting three organizations were rep- 
resented, namely: 

Natal Indian Blind Society 

New Horizon School for the Blind 

Coloured and Indian Blind Welfare Association 
The representation was as follows: 
Natal Indian Blind Society: 

Mr Jack Naidoo, Mr J. Kissoon Singh, Mr Z.M. Yacoob. 
New Horizon School for the Blind: 

Mr CM. Bassa, Mr H. Gokool, Mr B.C. Nursoo. 
Coloured and Indian Blind Welfare Association 

Mr I.F.H. Mayet, Mr W. Goliath, Mr H. Merckel, Mr H. Rhoda. 
Mr CM. Bassa was unanimously elected chairman of the meeting. 

Various matters connected with the new dipensation were discussed, es- 
pecially with regard to problems arising from the interpretation of certain 
sections of the circular of the Department of Social Welfare and 
Pensions. Notwithstanding the fact that it was felt that these still 
needed elucidation, the meeting resolved to proceed with the estab- 
lishment of a Division. The resolution with regard to this read as fol- 
lows: 



315 



"Formation of Interim Division of Indian Affairs of the South Afri- 
can National Council for the Blind 

Mr J. Kissoon Singh formally moved that an Interim Division of In- 
dian Affairs of the South African National Council for the Blind be 
established." 
Mr Mayet supported the resolution. 

The following persons were elected members of the Executive Commit- 
tee of the Interim Division: 

Mr CM. Bassa (Chairman) 
Mr J. Kissoon Singh (Honorary Secretary) 
Mr J. Naidoo 
Mr B.C. Nursoo 
Mr I.F.H. Mayet. 
Attention was also given to the terms of reference of the Division which 
read as follows: 

"To deal with all matters concerning the welfare and rehabilita- 
tion of the Indian blind and partially sighted, and the prevention 
of blindness." 

Until the adoption of the amended constitution of the Council the 
Interim Division would function as such and then become the official 
Division, bearing the name of: 

The South African National Council for the Blind Division for 
Indian Blind. 

This approval was obtained at a meeting of the National Council held 
23-25 October 1968 when the Constitution was appropriately amended. 

Interim Division for Coloured Blind 

With regard to the establishment of a Division for Coloured Blind, 
there were certain obstacles which caused some delay. At that time 
there was only one organization which was entirely controlled by 
Coloured persons, namely the League of Friends of the Blind, with its 
head office in Cape Town. Branches existed in other parts of the 
country where there was a concentration of the Coloured population. 
The other organizations which, together with other commitments, 
also served the Coloured blind, were White-controlled. 

There were five such organizations. Serious efforts were made to 
persuade these bodies to become members of the Division, but without 
success. The foundation meeting which was convened for 27 July 1968, 
therefore consisted of representatives of only two organizations, 



316 



namely the League of Friends of the Blind and the Coloured and 
Indian Blind Welfare Association. The representation consisted of the 
following: 

League of Friends of the Blind : 

Messrs I.J. Jacobs, H. Carelse, M.P. Lewin, B. Williams, F.W. 
Paulse. 

(Observers: Mrs I. Jacobs and Mrs S. Johnson). 
Coloured and Indian Blind Welfare Association 

Messrs W.R. Goliath, H. Merckel, H. Rhoda, Miss J. M. Frede- 
ricks, Mr I.F.H. Mayet. 

Messrs A.B.W. Marlow and S.K. Wentworth represented the 
National Council for the Blind. 

Mr W.R. Goliath was unanimously elected Chairman. 

At the meeting the question of representation of White-adminis- 
tered societies which also served Coloured blind persons was once 
more raised. At this stage the affiliation of these societies had not been 
resolved and there were misgivings in certain quarters whether this was 
constitutionally possible. 

After lengthy discussions the meeting resolved to form a Division for 
Coloured Blind, and in this connection the minutes state the follow- 
ing: 

"The meeting unanimously agreed to the principle of forming a 
Division. Mr I.Jacobs proposed, seconded by Mr F. Paulse, that a 
sub-committee be appointed to word the preamble and the resol- 
ution." 

The "preamble" was a brief outline of the course of events. The fol- 
lowing resolution was then moved: 

"This meeting of delegates of two duly constituted Blind Welfare 
Societies, namely the Coloured and Indian Blind Welfare Associ- 
ation and the League of Friends of the Blind, resolves that a Div- 
ision of the S.A. National Council for the Blind, to be styled the 
S.A. National Council for the Blind Division for Coloured Blind 
be and is hereby established with the said Societies as its founda- 
tion members, for the better co-ordination and development of 
welfare work for Coloured blind persons throughout the Repub- 
lic of South Africa." 
The following persons were elected as members of the Executive 
Committee of the Division: 

Mr W. R. Goliath — chairman 



317 



Mr I. J. Jacobs — vice-chairman 

Miss J. M. Fredericks — honorary treasurer 

Mr M. P. Lewin 

Mr P. WilUams 

Mr H. Rhoda 

It was also resolved to advertise the post of full-time secretary, but 
for the time being to appoint someone in a temporary capacity. Mr H. 
Rhoda was offered the post and he accepted. Accordingly he could not 
have a seat on the Executive Committee, and Mr H. Merkel was elected 
in his place. 

Furthermore it was resolved that the head office of the Division 
would be situated in Johannesburg. The first meeting of the Executive 
Committee was convened for 23 August 1968 in Johannesburg. 

Authorization for the establishment of both Divisions was obtained 
by the adoption of the amended constitution at a meeting of the S.A. 
National Council for the Blind held 23-25 October 1968. 

Division for Indian Blind 

After the establishment of the Division for Indian Blind a sub-com- 
mittee was appointed by the Executive Committee of the National 
Council to draw up regulations in which the objectives, powers and fi- 
nancial commitments of the Division were laid down. Before the regu- 
lations were put into operation they were submitted to the Division for 
comment and possible amendments. 

The objectives as stated in the regulations were the same as those in- 
corporated in the terms of reference which were approved at the inau- 
gural meeting, namely "to deal with all matters concerning the welfare 
and rehabilitation of the Indian blind and partially sighted, and the 
prevention of blindness". 

The powers of the Division are set out in five paragraphs, the first of 
which reads as follows: 

"The Division shall be the consultative and advisory body to the 
South African National Council for the Blind on all matters con- 
cerning Indian blind persons and shall have power, subject to the 
approval of the Council or its Executive Committee, to do all 
such things as may be necessary to carry out its aims." 
With regard to the financial aspect it was stipulated that estimates of 
expenditure should be submitted annually before 31 August to the 
Executive Committee of Council for approval. Furthermore accounts 



318 



Division for Indian Blind - Executive Committee with staff. Front: M. N. Ramson (Hon. Trea- 
surer), J. Kissoon Singh (Vice-chairman), C. M. Bassa (Chairman), Mrs M. E. Naidoo, K. R. Sita- 
ram (Secretary). Back: Dr M. A. Docrat, Sister A. Naidu (nurse), R. K. W. Thandroyen (Dept. of 
Indian Affairs), Z. M. Yacoob, A. N. Lazarus, B. C. Nursoo, Mrs N. Essop (typist/clerk). 




The official opening of the Arthur Blaxall School for the Blind (later the New Horizon School for 
the Blind) by Dr Louis van Schalkwijk, Chairman of the S. A. National Council for the Blind, in 
Durban on 2 October 1954. With him is Rev. A. W. Blaxall (left) and Mr K. M. Pillay. 



319 



of income and expenditure should be properly kept and an audited 
statement submitted annually. The customary precautions should be 
taken with regard to the financial affairs of the Division. 

The regulations also dealt with matters such as membership and af- 
filiation, the seat of the head office of the Division, the number of of- 
fice bearers and their term of office, procedure for the convening of 
meetings, the size of the quorum, the keeping of minutes and other re- 
cords, the framing of reports, the right of possession, the appointment 
of personnel, the organising of conferences and the procedure in con- 
nection with the amendment of the regulations. The regulations there- 
fore embraced all matters relating to the efficient administration and 
organization of the Division. 

With regard to the proposed activities of the Division, the chairman, 
Mr CM. Bassa, submitted a programme of action to the Executive 
Committee of Council,^ its main features being the following: 

To establish the incidence of blindness and preventable eye diseases 
in areas which have a large concentration of the Indian population. 
With regard to this it will also be determined whether the surveys so far 
conducted by the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness have 
adequately covered all the areas where the Indian population is con- 
centrated. 

To investigate the education of the blind and the partially sighted 
child insofar as the geographical situation of the school is concerned ; 
to determine further whether the facilities for higher education for blind 
Indian students are adequate. With regard to this, representations will 
be addressed to the authorities for the granting of government bursa- 
ries to Indian students and the establishment of a Readjustment Board. 

To investigate all aspects of placement, which includes the effec- 
tiveness of sheltered workshops, the need for new crafts in such work- 
shops, opportunities for employment in the open labour market and 
an evaluation of the potential of every blind worker in order to estab- 
lish the best field of employment for each person. 

To promote the social and cultural activities for Indian Blind in 
order to establish closer contact with the general public, and the inte- 
gration of the blind person into society. 

To conduct surveys to ascertain the flow of newly blinded persons 
needing rehabilitation, with a view to the establishment of a rehabilita- 
tion centre which may possibly also serve as a holiday home. 

To publicise the facilities and aids which are made available to the 



320 



blind by the National Council and from other quarters. 

The above resume of the objectives illustrates the wide field to be 
covered in order to create a fairly efficient service to the Indian blind 
community. 

After the above exposition by Mr Bassa, Mr Theo Pauw, chairman of 
the Council, expressed his thanks and appreciation to the various 
Indian and Coloured organizations and all persons who had assisted, 
for the satisfactory manner in which the matter had been conducted. 
The minutes of the meeting reported the last part of his speech as fol- 
lows: 

"He (the chairman) stated that he had been struck by the fact that 
the Council was coming to grips with certain aspects of its prob- 
lems in a different manner than in the past and he was confident 
that this would in the long run be to the benefit of the people 
concerned and that the work would develop along lines and in 
fields which had not been touched before."^ 
After almost three years of preparation, which included the intro- 
duction of interim measures, the first general meeting of the Division 
for Indian Blind was held in the boardroom of the Orient Islamic 
Education Trust, Orient Hall, Centenary Road, Durban, on Saturday 
22 February 1969. The following representatives of Societies were pres- 
ent: 

Natal Indian Blind Society 

Messrs M. S. Archery, H. Gokool, J. Kissoon Singh, E. A. Kahn 

and Z. Yacoob. 
New Horizon School for the Blind 

Messrs C. M. Bassa, H. N. Lazarus, J. Naidoo, R. Naidoo, C. 

Nursoo. 

Also present: Dr W. Cohen and Mr V. H. Vaughan, representa- 
tives of the S.A. National Council for the Blind. 
Apologies for absence were received from Mr I. F. H. Mayet, co- 
opted member and chairman of the Coloured and Indian Blind 
Welfare Association. 
In order to ensure that the meeting was properly constituted it was 
proposed by Mr J. Naidoo and seconded by Mr E. A. Kahn that the 
S.A. National Council for the Blind Division for Indian Blind be for- 
mally constituted in accordance with clause 7(a)(1) of the constitution 
of the South African National Council for the Blind. Included in the 
proposal was the recommendation that the Chairman of the Interim 



321 



Division for Indian Blind, Mr C. M. Bassa, act as chairman until the 
elections took place later. This was carried. 

After this the regulations which had been framed by the Executive 
Committee of the National Council and amended by the Interim Div- 
ision, were approved. 

The question of membership of the Coloured and Indian Blmd Wel- 
fare Association was then discussed. It was decided that since the So- 
ciety did not exclusively serve the Indian blind it could not become af- 
filiated to the Division, but could be an associate member. 

The election of officers and members of the Executive committee 
then took place. The following were elected: 

Chairman • Mr C. M. Bassa 

Vice-chairman : Mr J. Naidoo 

Honorary Treasurer : Mr E. A. Kahn 

Members of the Executive Committee : Mr J. Kissoon Singh 

Mr H. Gokool 
Mr A. N. Lazarus. 
The co-option of the three members was referred to the Executive of 
the Divisions. 

The estimates of expenditure for the amount of R5 150 was ap- 
proved for submission to the Executive Committee of the National 
Council. The estimates made provision, amongst other things, for the 
equipping of an office and the appointment of a secretary. 

After this the proceedings were mainly administrative. The Execu- 
tive Committee was instructed to give the necessary attention to the 
various matters which were incorporated in the objectives of the Div- 
ision and in the programme of action. After this the meeting ad- 
journed. . • 

The first meeting of the Executive Committee of the Division was 
held on 15 August 1969. All the members were present, as well ad Dr 
W Cohen, representative of the National Council. 

After Mr B. C. Nursoo and Mr I. F. H. Mayet had been co-opted as 
members of the Executive Committee, the status of the Coloured and 
Indian Blind Welfare Association once more came under discussion. A 
letter had been received from the National Council in which it was 
confirmed that, by virtue of the fact that the Association mainly served 
the Coloured community, and admitted blind Indians to their work- 
shop the Association was not entitled to full membership of the Div- 
ision for Indian Blind, but could acquire associate membership. 



322 



Thereupon it was decided to extend an invitation to the Assocation to 
become an associate member of the Division.' 

After this the amendments to the regulations which an ad hoc com- 
mittee of the Executive Committee of the National Council had recom- 
mended were scrutinised and approved. 

Two important aspects came under discussion, namely the place- 
ment of Indian bHnd persons in open labour, and the prevention of 
bHndness. 

With regard to placement it was decided to make use of the services 
of Mr L. S. Watson, second employment officer of the National Coun- 
cil. Particulars in connection with school-leavers should be forwarded 
to him in good time. 

The question was raised with regard to the subsidising of tours con- 
ducted by the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness on behalf of the 
Indian community, and the chairman informed the meeting that the 
matter had already been laid before the Department of Indian Affairs. 
The chairman also mentioned that the Division was kept informed and 
that reports of the Division had been made available. He stated further 
that the Natal Indian Blind Society, in collaboration with the Bureau, 
had organised an operation clinic at the Shifa Hospital from 26 July to 
6 August 1968, and that 28 operations had been performed. 

It was resolved to request the Bureau to make provision for one tour 
per annum for the Indian community. The Natal Midlands should be 
granted first priority. 

The following statistics in connection with the incidence of blindness 
among Indians in the Republic were released: 

1967/1968 1968/1969 
Natal 337 363 

Rest of the Republic 33 34 

Total 370 397 

The rest of the meeting was devoted purely to administrative mat- 
ters. This included the renting of an office, the purchasing of frimiture, 
the appointment of an auditor, travelling expenses, revision of the esti- 
mates and the advertising of the secretarial post. The latter was re- 
garded as very urgent. 

The minutes of the above meeting served as the chairman's report at 
the meeting of the Executive Committee of Council, held on 23 and 24 
October 1969. 

The second meeting of the Executive Committee of the Division was 



323 



held on 13 March 1970, and the second general meeting on 13 June 
1970. Mr C. Nayanah of the staff of the Natal Indian Blind Society 
acted temporarily as secretary, as the permanent secretary had not yet 
assumed office. The chairman was able to announce, however, that Mr 
S. K. Sitaram had been appointed and would shortly take office.* At 
the meeting all serving office bearers and members of the Executive 
Committee were re-elected en bloc. 

At the biennial meeting of the National Council held on 20-22 
October 1970 in Port Elizabeth, Mr Bassa delivered his chaiman's re- 
port to the full Council for the first time. An important aspect of the 
report was the attention given to the prevention of blindness. The Di- 
vision co-operated closely with the Bureau for the Prevention of Blind- 
ness, which had conducted a diagnostic tour shortly before (10 to 19 
September 1970) in the Indian areas of Northern Natal. 

Mr Bassa likewise expressed his appreciation for the co-operation 
which had been built up between the Council and the Division. 
Furthermore he and his Executive Committee were encouraged by the 
interest shown in the Division by the Department of Indian Affairs. 

The subsequent participation in the discussions by Mr Bassa and his 
colleague, Mr H. Gokool, not only illustrates the exceptional insight 
which the Division had already acquired in matters involving the blind 
in general, but also the interest taken in the welfare of individual blind 
persons. Thereafter eight motions were submitted on behalf of the 
Division, the majority of which were carried with only a few amend- 
ments. Examples of matters which were proposed were the following: 
training of social workers, increased pensions, relaxing of the means 
test, training of blind Indians as physiotherapists, increased augmen- 
tation allowances for blind Indian workers, and the appointment of 
an additional employment officer. 

After the report of the Division had been dealt with, the Chairman 
of the Council, Mr Theo Pauw, expressed his thanks to the representa- 
tives of the Division. The minutes report as follows: 

"The Chairman stated that it was his pleasure, in a very real 
sense, to thank Mr Bassa and Mr Gokool for the contribution 
which they had made to this session of the conference, and to 
congratulate the Division on its sterling work and the report 
which it had been able to present."^ 

The next chairman's report of the Division was presented at a meet- 
ing of the Executive Committee of the Council, held on 14-16 April 



324 



197 1. As an annexure to the report, a memorandum was added by the 
Secretary of the Division, giving an account of an extensive tour which 
he had undertaken to the Transvaal, with a view to investigating the 
circumstances of Indian blind in that province. At the same time it was 
also an orientation visit, since he had called at the head office of Coun- 
cil, and at the office of the Coloured and Indian Blind Welfare Associa- 
tion in Johannesburg. He conferred with interested persons and paid 
visits to several ordinary schools on the East Rand, which indicated 
that there were quite a number of children with eye defects in the 
schools. With regard to this, it was resolved that the Division should 
approach the Department of Optometry of the Witwatersrand Tech- 
nicon with the request that a survey of refraction problems amongst 
Indian children be conducted. 

When examining the subsequent records of the Division one be- 
comes aware of the fact that there is one aspect of the work which over- 
shadows all others, namely the intensified efforts employed for the 
prevention of blindness among the Indian community. Besides the 
regular tours which were conducted by the Bureau for the Prevention 
of Blindness, the Division had also organised a series of day-clinics in 
various parts of Natal where there was a large concentration of 
Indians. In this connection the Chairman of the Bureau wrote in his 
report which was presented to the biennial meeting of the Council, 
held October 1974: 

"Unquestionably during the period under review the greatest 
progress was in the field of extending ophthalmic services to the 
Indian Community. A new system was brought into operation 
whereby eight one-day clinics amongst Indians in outlying areas 
will in future be conducted annually by an Indian ophthalmolo- 
gist. These clinics will be mainly diagnostic in nature with treat- 
ment for minor eye complaints. . . For this purpose and in order 
to do the necessary follow-up work of Bureau tours, the Commit- 
tee recommended that a full-time Indian ophthalmic nurse be 
appointed to the staff of the Bureau and that she be seconded to 
the Division for Indian Blind." 

The first nurse assumed duties on 26 August 1974, but after six 
months was replaced by another. The latter started work on 17 
February 1975, and is still in service. 

The success of the one-day clinics is proved by the statistics supplied 



325 



in the chairman's report to the Executive Committee of the Council.'^ 
He writes as follows: 

"The full programme of one-day clinics was successfully com- 
pleted. Over 1 085 persons were examined. Of these 472 were re- 
ferred for refraction purposes, 106 required operative treatment 
and 233 were treated at the clinics for various eye ailments. The 
large turnout at these clinics made it necessary for two ophthal- 
mologists to be taken to the last three clinics." 
The chairman also remarks diat the nurse does valuable follow-up 
work, especially with regard to the referring of patients to hospitals. 
She submits weekly reports to the Secretary of the Division and bi-monthly 
reports to die Assistant Director (Bureau tor the Prevention of Blindness). 

Another aspect of the activities of the Division was the efforts of the 
secretary to establish conmiittees in the Transvaal in areas where there 
is a fairly large Indian population. In 1973 a meeting was held in Be- 
noni on the East Rand, which was attended by 65 persons. A commit- 
tee was formed to promote the cause of the Indian blind in that part of 
the province. Although it certainly was a worthy effort, the interest 
gradually waned and plans to establish similar committees in Lenasia 
(Johannesburg) and Laudium (Pretoria) were abandoned. 

An outstanding event in the programme of the Division for Indian 
Blind was the organising of a conference on the education of the vi- 
sually handicapped. The conference was held at die University of Dur- 
ban - Westville on 31 July and 1 August 1975. The following infor- 
mation appeared in a report released by the secretary of the Division: 
"114 delegates all told, and many visitors attended the con- 
ference. They came from schools for die blind, eight organiza- 
tions for the welfare of the blind, three government departments, 
torty ordinary schools, and the University ot Durban - Westville." 
The Conference was opened by Professor R. E. van der Ross, Rector 
of the University of die Western Cape. The addresses, which were de- 
livered by educarionists in the field, covered the most important as- 
pects of the education of both the blind and the partially sighted. The 
discussions which followed were lively and the conference can be re- 
garded as highly successful. 

In April 1979 a second conference was held by the Division for 
Indian Blind in co-operadon with the Division for Coloured Blind in 
Durban. The theme was: Meet the Blind. It formed part of the jubilee 
programme of the S.A. Nadonal Council for the Blind. 



326 



The conference was chiefly concerned with the practical provision 
of services to adult blind persons. Besides the addresses (one of which 
dealt with hereditary factors), three study group meetings were held, 
where various aspects of voluntary work in the field were discussed. 

Approximately 70 persons attended the conference, representing 
various organizations involved in the provision of services to the blind 
in the Republic. 

An aspect of social welfare work which constantly engaged the atten- 
tion of the Division, was its efforts to improve the financial position of 
the blind workers, especially those in the workshop. Representations 
were regularly made to the National Council and the authorities to in- 
crease the augmentation allowances and to lower the means test for 
qualifying for a pension. Attention was also given to a home workers 
scheme. 

With regard to placement, there was a continual search for suitable 
avenues of employment. In co-operation with the employment officer 
of the National Council, blind persons were placed with a firm for the 
stringing of tennis racquets. This can be considered a positive break- 
through. 

The provision of rehabilitation services to newly blinded persons has 
occupied the serious attention of the Division during the past few 
years. As an alternative to a rehabilitation centre, a system of resi- 
dential rehabilitation is being contemplated where persons can receive 
the necessary professional services in their homes. In connection with 
this, recreation facilities for blind people also occupied the attention of 
the Division. With this in mind a reading centre was opened in Dur- 
ban, and efforts were started to make it possible for blind persons to 
play bowls. 

With regard to mobility, a person was trained as a mobility in- 
structor to provide instruction to workers in the workshop, and other 
blind people, in the use of the long cane. 

It has previously been stated that plans were afoot to divide the 
Coloured and Indian Blind Welfare Association into two organiza- 
tions, one of which would serve the Coloureds, and the other the 
Indians. In his report to the Executive Committee (meeting of 18-20 
April 1979) die chairman of die Division announced diat this had been 
accomplished, and that the new Association would henceforth be 
known as the Transvaal Indian Association for the Care of the Visually 
Handicapped. 



327 



Mr CM. Bassa, Chairman of the Division for 
Indian BHnd, Chairman of the Natal Society 
for the Care of Indian Blind and DeSf, Chair- 
man of Board of the New Horizon School for 
the Blind. 




Mr K. M. Pillay, founder of the New Horizon 
School for the Blind, former Chairman of the 
Natal Society for Indian Blind. 



Mr W. R. Goliath, Chairman of the Division 
for Coloured Blind, Chairman of Services for 
the Blind and Visually Handicapped. 




Mr I.J.Jacobs, founder member of the League 
of Friends of the Blind and one time member 
of the Division for Coloured Blind. 



328 



To conclude, it must be mentioned that in the short space at our dis- 
posal, it is impossible to do justice to all the activities of the Division. It 
is a section of the work of the National Council which is carried out 
with enthusiasm, insight and efficiency. 

Mr C. M. Bassa 

Mr Cassim M. Bassa, whose name has often been mentioned in con- 
nection with the history of the Division for Indian Blind, has for the 
past quarter century played a prominent role in connection with this 
branch of welfare work for the blind. There is virtually no aspect of 
service to the Indian blind in which he has not been involved in some 
way or other, or with which he has not had contact. His rendering of 
assistance, however, is not confined to the blind alone. His sphere of 
interest has in course of time expanded, and at present he is also con- 
cerned with the provision of services to other categories of handi- 
capped persons. In addition to this he falls within that group of 
business men who concern themselves with the needs of the under- 
privileged in the community, and are prepared to render assistance. By 
virtue of this and other attributes which will be dealt with later, his 
interesting life story deserves closer scrutiny. 

After the young Cassim Bassa had matriculated at Sastri College in 
Durban in 1944, it was his father's wish that he should become a doc- 
tor. In fact, his father, who was a wealthy business man, cherished the 
ambition that both his sons would enter the medical profession so that 
they could establish clinics where free medical services could be pro- 
vided form a trust fund started by himself. Cassim, however, preferred 
to study law, should he decide to enter a university. However, he fi- 
nally chose to start working. 

His brother did in fact become a doctor, and is a professor in psy- 
chiatry in London at the present time. 

When speaking of his mother, Mr Bassa says she was a wonderful 
woman who constantly rendered assistance to those in need. This qual- 
ity was ingrained in her children, which may possibly be the reason 
why her son felt the urge to be of help to the under-privileged. 

After passing the matriculation examination, Mr Bassa, through the 
good offices of an ex- teacher who was on the staff^ of the University of 
Natal at the time, accepted a post as assistant research worker in the 
Department of Economics at the University. The research concerned 



329 



the economic circumstances of the Indians in Natal, and in this way he 
became acquainted with the various strata of the Indian community. 
He had to analyse the completed forms. He also read a great deal 
about the immigration of the Indians to South Africa. All this know- 
ledge stood him in good stead later on in the field of welfare work. 

After he had resigned from his post at the University, he was ap- 
proached by Mr R. Reddy, honorary treasurer of the Natal Indian 
Blind Society at that time, to assist him with fund-raising. Mr Bassa's 
duty was to place collection boxes in factories and public places and to 
return them after a certain time. He also had to count the money. He 
had plenty of time at his disposal and felt that he was performing a ne- 
cessary task, albeit a simple one. This was the beginning of his involve- 
ment with the blind. A further step in this connection was when he was 
asked to become the secretary of the Society in 1953. A crisis situation 
had arisen in die office. Mr K. M. Pillay, dien Chairman of die So- 
ciety, was in India where he had gone to be married, the secretary 
(Miss Evans) had resigned and Mr Jack Naidoo, vice-chairman of the 
Society, and incidentally also an ex-teacher of his, asked him to depu- 
tise as honorary secretary until the annual meeting, when he was 
elected. Mr Bassa admits that, by reason of his involvement with the 
work amongst the blind, his attitude towards life had changed. It influ- 
enced his entire future. He now worked with a specific aim in view. He 
also felt more settled. 

The subsequent history of Mr Bassa's work among the blind is the 
history of the Natal Indian Blind Society, the New Horizon School for 
the Blind and the Division for Indian Blind. In addidon to this we 
should also mendon his activides widi regard to die establishment of die 
Indian School for the Deaf in 1968, and consequently the alteradon in 
the name of the Society to the Natal Indian Blind and Deaf Society. He 
also took an active part in the establishment of the school for the cere- 
bral palsied, and serves on the committee. 

Apart from what has already been written about the Division for 
Indian Blind, Mr Bassa played a vital role in connecdon with its estab- 
lishment in the midst of numerous problems which had arisen. The 
present writer was privileged to have served on the Division as a rep- 
resentative of the National Council since its inception, and can there- 
fore bear witness to the seriousness and sense of responsibility with 
which Mr Bassa had undertaken the task. His only motive was to seek 
what was best for the blind in his community, and to find ways and 



330 



means to improve their position and status. All other matters were of 
secondary importance. All those concerned with welfare work are 
deeply impressed by his thoughtful and balanced views on these mat- 
ters. It was largely due to his leadership that the Division could be of 
such valuable service. The reports which he presented to the meetings 
of the Executive Committee and the National Council were compre- 
hensive and informative — indicative of his interest in the cause which 
he holds so dear. 

Mr Bassa was a member of three delegations which represented the 
National Council at conferences overseas. In 1969 he was an observer 
at the Conference of the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind 
(W.C.W.B.) in New Delhi. The other two delegates were refused entry 
to India and he was therefore the only representative from South Af- 
rica. According to reports received, he acquitted himself well of his 
task. In 1974 he was one of the delegates of the National Council to the 
W.C.W.B. Conference, held in Sao Paulo. In July 1978 Mr Bassa, to- 
gether with the Director, represented the National Council at a confer- 
ence of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, held 
at Oxford, England. On his return he submitted an informative report 
on the proceedings. 

Mr Bassa has connections with various welfare organizations and 
projects. He is a trustee of the Muslim Home for Orphans, a Joint 
Honorary Secretary of the Orient Islamic Educational Institute, and 
also Joint Honorary Secretary of the Indian Centenary Scholarship 
Trust. He is a trustee of the Chatsworth Early Learning Centre. 

Mr Bassa is active in various sporting bodies. He is involved in the 
administration of cricket on regional, provincial, and national level. 
He was the first vice-president of the Natal Cricket Board of Control 
and is at present a councillor on the S.A. Cricket Board of Control. He 
is also connected with the administration of table- tennis. He has been 
President of the S.A. Table Tennis Board since 1956, and is Vice-Presi- 
dent, Southern Natal Table Tennis Union. 

After his father's death he became a director in his father's firm and 
in 1964 he started his own business as an estate agent in Durban. In 
this capacity he was able to build up many contacts in the business 
world and the community, of which he is an esteemed member. As 
proof of this he has received two special awards. On 16 September 
1974 the J. N. Reddy trophy was awarded to him by the Jaycees^^ for 
exceptional services to the community. The second award was made to 



331 



him at a ceremonial meeting of the Durban City Council held on 4 
March 1977. The City Honours were conferred on him for his out- 
standing service to the community, especially with regard to the wel- 
fare of the blind. Since 1954, when these awards were introduced, 41 
citizens of Durban had been honoured in this way. The citation which 
was presented to each recipient was entered in the Civic Honours 
Book. The citation presented to Mr Bassa read as follows: 

"In grateful acknowledgement of many years of dedicated and 
outstanding service to the Indian Community in the Welfare, 
Sporting and Educational fields and particularly in recognition of 
his great contribution in the interests of the Blind, especially 
through the Natal Indian Blind Society." 
The Executive Committee of the S.A. National Council for the Blind 
resolved to present the R. W. Bowen medal, the Council's highest 
award, to Mr Bassa at the time of the jubilee celebrations which take 
place in November 1979, for meritorious services rendered in connec- 
tion with the welfare of the blind. 

Division for Coloured Blind 

The first general meeting of the Division for Coloured Blind was 
held in Cape Town on 8 March 1969. The same delegates who had at- 
tended the first meeting of the interim Division in 1967 were present. 
The representative of the Council was Mr G. Schermbrucker.'^ With re- 
gard to the founding of the Division, the minutes report the following: 
"This meeting constituting members of the Transvaal Coloured 
and Indian Blind Welfare Association and the League of Friends 
ol the Blind, meeting in Cape Town on the 8thMarchl969 resolves:- 

(a) To form the S.A. National Council Division for Coloured 
Blind to serve the interests and co-ordinate the work among 
the Coloured Blind throughout the Republic; 

(b) To strive for the ultimate autonomy of the Coloured Division 
pursuant to the government directive for parallel de- 
velopment in Welfare Organization; 

(c) To work in close collaboration with the S.A. National Council 
for the Blind and the state in its efforts to advance the level of 
complete independence when we will be capable of managing 
our own affairs. 

Proposed by Mr P. Williams, seconded by Mr P. Adams. Unani- 
mously agreed." 



332 



Division for Coloured Blind - Executive Committee. Back: C. D. Beilings, R. E. Perils Rev P M 
P^""' JJ^^i-lse, Vice-chairman, H. H. Rhoda, M. P. Lewin, Treasurer. Front: Dr T. I Fourie 
Liaison Officer, W. R. Goliath, Chairman, W. P. Rowland, Director of the National Council t' 
W. Davis, Secretary. 




lay Home of the League of Friends for the Blind at Strandfontein, Cape Town. 



333 



After a few amendments to the regulations had been made, the elec- 
tion of the Executive Committee took place. The following were 
elected : 

Chairman: Mr W. R. Goliath 

Vice-Chairman : Mr I. J. Jacobs 

Honorary Treasurer: Miss J. M. Fredericks 

Members: Messrs P. Williams, M. P. Lewin and H, Merkel. 

With regard to the co-opting of the three additional members who 
were permitted by the constitution, it was decided to refer the matter 
to the Executive Committee. The latter was also instructed to make ar- 
rangements for the appointment of a full-time secretary. 

After a few administrative matters had been disposed of the meeting 
was adjourned. 

The first report of the Division, which was presented to the meeting 
of the Executive Committee of the Council held on 22 ~ 24 October 
1969, dealt mostly with procedure and policy. The question of rep- 
resentation on the Division of societies which provide services to blind 
Coloured persons was again raised, and the chairman deplored the 
fact that the Division had no contact with these blind persons. In this 
connection the resolution taken by the Executive Committee of the 
Division at its meeting of 9 August 1969 was quoted. It read as follows: 
"That the S.A. National Council for the Blind be requested to in- 
clude the chairman or secretary of the Division when interviews 
are held with Societies dealing with the Coloureds in respect of 
their problems or development." 
It was clear that the Division wished to be kept informed with regard 
to all matters relating to blind Coloured persons, so that services could 
be provided where necessary. 

At the biennial meeting of the Council, held 21 to 23 October 1970, 
the matter was again discussed. Messrs I. Jacobs and H. Rhoda were 
present as representatives of the Division for Coloured Blind. The as- 
surance was given that a solution was assiduously being sought. At the 
conclusion of the discussion the Chairman of the Council made a state- 
ment on the matter, which the minutes reported as follows: 

"The Chairman appealed to the meeting to accept the bona fides 
of all concerned and the integrity of those working in this field 
and representing the various organizations ... He gave the rep- 
resentatives of the Division for Coloured Blind the assurance that 



334 



any mistakes which may have occurred in this connection had not 
been intentional, and that it was a question of finding a modus 
operandi through experience and goodwill." 
At the meeting the two representatives of the Division submitted 
motions which had a specific bearing on matters concerning the 
Coloured blind. Firstly it was proposed that the National Council 
should take steps to conduct a survey of Coloured blind persons in the 
Republic, with a view to establishing societies where they were needed. 
The chairman replied that the Executive Committee of Council was en- 
gaged in an investigation of gaps in services for the blind. 

Proposals were also submitted in connection with the increase in the 
amount of the pensions paid out to Coloured blind persons, an in- 
crease in the subsidies paid on behalf of Coloured social workers and 
an increase in the salaries of the administrative personnel of work- 
shops. 

The report which was presented by the chairman of the Division, Mr 
W. R. Goliath, to both the meetings of the Executive Committee (23-24 
October 1972), and the 21st biennial meeting of the Council (25-27 
October 1972), contained information concerning certain de- 
velopments which had taken place during the previous period. 

Firstly it was stated that a third organization had affiliated to the 
Division, namely the Beacon Club of Cape Town. Furthermore it was 
announced that, as a result of a very successful tour which the Bureau 
for the Prevention of Blindness had conducted in Oudtshoorn from 
13-22 September 1971, a society had been formed there. Messrs I. J. 
Jacobs and H. Rhoda accompanied the tour and were instrumental in 
establishing the society. 

The Division also concerned itself with the lot of the deaf-blind in 
the community and inquired from various bodies about procedures 
which should be followed in order to be of service to such persons. It 
was announced that the Athlone School for the Blind had been granted 
permission to establish a division for deaf-blind in 1973. 

The chairman of the Division concluded his report with the sugges- 
tion that the time had arrived for the appointment of a full-time secre- 
tary, so that more attention could be devoted to essential de- 
velopments. 

At a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Council, held on 15- 
17 October 1973, the post of secretary was approved. His headquarters 
would be in Cape Town. Moreover it was decided that arrangements 



335 



be made to equip an office for the secretary in Geneva House, the 
building where the pubHc relations officer of the Council was accom- 
modated. In view of this the head offiice of the Division was moved 
from Johannesburg to Cape Town. 

After the post had been advertised and the customary procedures 
had been followed, Mr J. W. Davis was appointed full-time secretary of 
the Division for Coloured Blind. He assumed duty on 1 April 1974. A 
Consultative Committee was appointed to serve him with advice, to see 
that his offiice was properly equipped and to assist him with the draft- 
ing of a programme of action, including visits to institutions. 

Mr Davis immediately proved to be a diligent worker with a good 
insight into matters. He had to enter a new, and for him unfamiliar, 
field, and he realised that it was of prime importance that he should 
become acquainted with the extent of the problem before ne could in 
any way be able to continue with his programme. For that reason he 
immediately started compiling a register of Coloured blind persons 
who were registered under the Blind Persons Act. His immediate 
source of information was the Department of Coloured Affairs. After 
conferring with senior officials, he was given permission to obtain the 
names and addresses from their official register. It was a formidable 
undertaking but essential for the efficient provision of services. The 
matter was discussed at the next meeting of the Executive Committee 
of the Division and it was decided that Mr Davis should conduct a trac- 
ing campaign in order to keep his register up to date and as complete 
as possible. 

As an annexure to the agenda of the meeting of the Executive Com- 
mittee of the Division which was convened for 10 August 1974 there 
was a report on the secretary's activities for the period 13 May to 15 
July 1974. 

The report was informative insofar as it gave an indication of what 
the secretary had already achieved since he had assumed duty. He re- 
marked that he had learnt much from Mr W. P. Rowland, the public 
relations offiicer, whose office was in the same building. Mr Rowland's 
advice served as a basis for his knowledge of and attitude towards the 
blind. With regard to further fruitful contacts he mentioned the co-op- 
eration he had received from both the Principal of the Athlone School 
for the Blind and the Manager of the workshop of the Cape Town Ci- 
vilian Blind Society. He was appointed as a member of the Welfare 
Committee of the Society. He had already visited 40 blind persons, 



336 



rendered assistance, and done follow-up work where it was needed. 
He was also invited to be the guest speaker at the annual meeting of the 
League of Friends of the Blind, and participated in a seminar with 
blind persons at another branch. All this and much more was accom- 
plished, apart from his administrative duties. 

This first report indicates that from the beginning Mr Davis had be- 
come absorbed in his work. His subsequent activities convincingly 
proved that the Division for Coloured Blind (and the National Coun- 
cil) had gained in him an officer who would be a great acquisition for 
promoting the interests of the blind. This was confirmed by his second 
report (up to December 1974) from which it was evident that he had 
carried on with the work which he had begun. He had, amongst other 
things, accompanied a tour of the Bureau for the Prevention of Blind- 
ness to Upington and its environs, and was going on a tour to Bredas- 
dorp later. With regard to placement in employment he had begun to 
make contact with factories and had received a list of ex-pupils from 
the Athlone School with the purpose of doing follow-up work. 

His activities also extended to the rural areas. A society had already 
been established at Oudtshoorn, with a committee of 15 members. 
Plans were set in motion to establish a similar society at Stellenbosch 
and possibly another at Upington. In connection with this matter he 
reports the following: 

"Because it is a known fact that the blind in the country areas are 
not reaping the full benefits available to them, I feel that no effort 
should be spared to establish local committees in the larger towns 
to report the needs to our office." 
However, the establishment of local committees did not prove to be 
a success. After a while the Oudtshoorn committee, of whom much 
had been expected, ceased to exist. As a result of this it remained a 
problem to reach the blind in the country districts. This must still be 
regarded as one of the gaps in the provision of services. The secretary 
had at one time expressed the opinion that the solution to this prob- 
lem should be sought in the establishment of branches of the League 
of Friends of the Blind in the country districts. Attempts should also be 
made to obtain the services of other welfare organizations, including 
the churches. 

With regard to welfare work in the country areas, the efforts of the 
secretary when he accompanies the tours of the Bureau for the Preven- 
tion of Blindness, should also be mentioned. He uses the opportunity 



337 



to visit blind persons in the surrounding area. Apart from the reports 
by the officers of the Bureau, the secretary presents his own as well. In 
these he sets out the welfare work which has been done. In this connec- 
tion it can be stated that fairly large areas of the country have already 
been covered, such as the South-Western Districts, the North-West 
Cape and Rehoboth in South West Africa. According to the reports 
good results have been obtained, but the secretary feels that these ef- 
forts are not sufficient to solve the problem of the rural Coloured blind 
person. 

The biennial meeting of the Division was held on 7 February 1976 in 
Cape Town. The chairman's report for the period October 1975 to 
February 1976 indicated that considerable progress had been made 
with regard to various aspects of the work. 

At the beginning the chairman stated that three organizations were 
affiliated to the Division. The Beacon Club was the third. In addition, 
associate membership was granted to the Welfare Commission of the 
"Nederduitse Gereformeerde Sending Kerk in Suid-Afrika". Although 
the other societies which serve the Coloured blind had not yet affili- 
ated, the chairman stated that a better understanding had developed 
between them, which could be regarded as very encouraging. This was 
mainly due to the good contacts which the secretary had established. 

An important event which was cited in the chairman's report was the 
opening of the Strandfontein Holiday Home for Coloured Blind, 
which took place on 15 February 1975. It is a project of the League of 
Friends of the Blind. Since the opening a year before, 105 guests had 
already been received. The question of financial assistance from the 
National Council was discussed. 

The chairman reported further that much thought had been given to 
the rehabilitation and placement in employment of blind Coloureds. 

A serious obstacle in the path of those seeking employment in the 
open labour market was their lack of proper training and rehabilita- 
tion. A programme for this had to be drawn up and urgent efforts 
made to carry it into effect. A committee was set up to go into the mat- 
ter. 

To conclude the chairman expressed his thanks to the two represen- 
tatives of the National Council, DrJ. J. Fourie and Mr C. K. Lord'^ for 
their advice and guidance. 

The following persons were elected as members of the Executive 
Committee of the Division for the period 1976 to 1978: 



338 



Chairman: Mr W. R. Goliath 
Vice- Chairman: Mr M. P. Lewin 
Honorary Treasurer: Mr P. N. KofT 
Members: Mr H. Rhoda 

Mr C. D. Beihngs 

Mr H. Carelse. 

In the secretary's report for the period August 1976 to February 
1977, two very important matters were mentioned. The first was that 
on the Bureau tour to the Vredendal area, which had been conducted 
in collaboration with the Department of Health, special attention had 
been given to school-going children, with the result that 140 pairs of 
spectacles had been prescribed for them by the visiting optometrist. 
The second matter was also connected with the tours of the Bureau for 
the Prevention of Blindness. The report contained a list of tours which 
had been planned for 1977. It included the following areas: Citrusdal, 
Oudtshoorn, Beaufort West and Prieska. In this connection the secre- 
tary writes that although it may appear that he was often out of town, 
his involvement with the tours is nevertheless of benefit to the blind in 
rural areas. Before embarking on a tour a list of registered blind per- 
sons in that area is drawn up. Personal contacts are then made and as- 
sistance is given where it is needed. He considers this to be the only 
way to make direct contact with the rural blind. 

An event which proved that the Division promotes all facets of ser- 
vices to the blind, was the organising of a conference on the education 
of the visually handicapped which was held om 7-8 July 1977 at the 
University of the Western Cape, Bellville, Cape Town. The theme of the 
conference was: Education and Preparation for Life. Addresses were 
delivered by teachers from schools for Whites, Coloureds and Indians. 
The conference covered a wide spectrum of educational matters, and 
was a great success. 

Another development which took place in 1977 was the increase in 
the number of organizations which affiliated to the Division. The 
chairman stated in his report for the period April to September 1977 
that the number amounted to seven. He also announced that the So- 
ciety for Coloured and Indian Blind had been divided into two, 
namely Services to the Blind and Visually Handicapped, and Transvaal 
Indian Association for the Care of the Visually Handicapped. 

The last matter which deserves attention in this review of the Div- 



339 



ision is its fifth biennual meeting which was held on 3 February 1979 in 
Cape Town. 

A feature of the meeting was the large number of persons who at- 
tended. There were 27 representatives from eight organizations. These 
included the White-controlled societies. In addition to the two official 
representatives of the National Council, the Director and three mem- 
bers of the Executive Committee of the Council were also present. 
Therefore the total number of those who attended was 33. One recalls 
the first general meeting a decade ago, when only nine representatives 
of two organizations attended. For that reason progress can be re- 
ported. After the reports of the chairman and the secretary had been 
dealt with, a representative ol each ol the societies submitted a briel report. 

The secretary in his report gave an account of the main aspects of his 
activities. It included contacts with approximately sixteen bodies, in- 
formation in connection with the prevention of blindness, the pro- 
vision of services to rural blind persons, and employment. The latter 
was considered a major priority during the past biennial term. In this 
connection the secretary submitted a schedule containing data on 24 
persons who had been placed in employment during the period June 
1976 to August 1978, with the place of employment and the type of 
work. They were employed, inter alia, as machine minders, packers, 
operators, wire strippers, sandpaperers, envelope-fillers, label- stickers, 
assistants in clothing factories, carpet layers and labourers. 

In conclusion it may be placed on record that during the ten years of 
its existence the Division has made considerable progress in the 
interests of the Coloured blind in our country. 

Mr W. R. Goliath 

Since Mr Goliath has for many years rendered outstanding services 
to the Coloured and Indian blind of the Witwatersrand and other parts 
of the Transvaal, and has been chairman of the Division for Coloured 
blind continuously since its inception in 1968, it is certainly fitting at 
this stage to give a brief outline of his life and work. He was the Princi- 
pal of a large primary school on the outskirts of Johannesburg at the 
time of his retirement in 1978. In the midst of his heavy responsibilities 
as Principal of the school, he also served his community in various ca- 
pacities, in the best educational tradition. After many years of experi- 
ence in the provision of services to the blind it is not suprising that, for 



340 



the past decade, he was able to take upon himself the leadership of the 
Division for Coloured Blind. 

William Richard Goliath was born on 27 October 1914 at Rouxville 
in the Free State. At the age of six years he accompanied his parents to 
Johannesburg where he completed his school career. In December 
1933 he qualified as a teacher at the Eurafrican Training College, and 
at the beginning of 1934 he was appointed as an assistant teacher at the 
Newclare Primary School. 

It is noteworthy that he remained on the staff of the school for 44 
years until his retirement in 1978. His periods of service were as fol- 
lows : 

Assistant teacher: 11 years 
Senior assistant: 7 years 
Vice-principal: 10 years 
Principal: 16 years. 

In the meantime he had improved his qualifications by means of 
private and part-time study. Hy obtained the Transvaal Teachers' 
Lower Diploma and the Transvaal Teachers' Diploma at the Rand Col- 
lege of Education. 

The Newclare Primary School grew to such an extent that between 
1962 and 1965 it was the largest school in the Republic with 2 500 pu- 
pils and 72 teachers. It needs special organizational ability and a strong 
personality to manage a school of that size. 

Long before he began to take an interest in the welfare of the blind, 
he had been connected with an organization which afforded under- 
privileged children the opportunity of spending a holiday at the sea- 
side. In 1932 he was the co-founder of the Transvaal Coloured Chil- 
dren's Seaside Fund. He is still actively engaged in the project. 

His connection with the Coloured and Indian Blind Welfare Associ- 
ation started in 1954, when he was elected a member of its Board of 
Management as well as its Executive Council. In 197 7 two organiza- 
tions developed from this body, the one serving Indian blind persons, 
named the Transvaal Indian Association for the Care of the Visually 
Handicapped, and the other serving the Coloured blind, called Ser- 
vices to the Blind and Visually Handicapped. Mr Goliath was elected 
as chairman of the latter at its foundation meeting. He continues to 
sei-ve in that capacity. He states that since his retirement he is able to 
devote more time to the activities of the society. As an example of this, 
he assisted in starting the game of bowls amongst the blind of the 



341 



workshop at Coronationville (near Johannesburg). He plays the game 
himself. When the Coronationville Region of the national Association 
of Blind Bowlers was formed, he was elected President of the Region. 
He took a team of bowlers to a tournament in Salisbury, Rhodesia, in 
1978. 

With regard to his community interest it should be mentioned that 
he was appointed as Vice- Chairman of the Coloured Management 
Committee of the Johannesburg City Council for the period April 1968 
to November 1977. 

The chairmanship of the Division for Coloured blind should how- 
ever be regarded as his major task in the provision of services to the 
blind. He has occupied this position from its inception in 1968 up to 
the present time. That he has identified himself the Division is shown 
by the reports which he presented at meetings of the Executive Com- 
mittee and the National Council. It can be said that at times he took a 
strong view about certain matters but it was always done in the best 
interests of the blind. 



Circular No. 29 of 1966. . , , r u m- ^ 

In January 1968 the name of the school was changed to the New Horizon School tor the Blind. 
Report of this meeting is attached as Annexure C to the minutes of the meeting ol the Execu- 
tives Committee of Council, held 27-28 April 1967. . 
There were no representatives of a Coloured society. Mr Marlow reported in a letter that nego- 
tiations were still being conducted in connection with the establishment of a Division tor 

Coloured Blind. . n, u ioac 

- At a meeting of the Executive Committee held on 20 and 21 October 968. 
. Minutes of meeting of the Executive Committee held 21 and 22 October 1968 (100th), page 1 
, When the Association was divided into two sections in 1977, full membership was granted to 

the new body, namely the Transvaal Indian Association for the Care of the Visually Handi- 

' M?^S^itaram assumed office as secretary of the Division for Indian Blind on 27 June 1970. 

9 Minutes of the biennial meeting held 20-22 October 1970, page 14. 

10 Meeting of 5-7 May 1975. 

i' junior Chamber of Commerce. 

12 The other representative was Mr T. E. Cutten, but he was absent. 

,3 Mr Lord was appointed in the place of Mr L. Jerwis, who had resigned. 



342 



CHAPTER 13 



FOUR CHAIRMEN AND TWO 
PRESIDENTS 



Since its establishment fifty years ago the S.A. National Council for the 
Blind has had six chairmen. The life and work of two of these, namely 
the first Chairman, Adv. R. W. Bowen, and Dr Louis van Schalkwijk, 
have already been reviewed. The other four, viz. Dr A. W. Blaxall, Mr 
A. B. W. Marlow, Dr Walter Cohen and Mr Theo Pauw, will now re- 
ceive attention. They will be dealt with in the above order, although 
this is not according to their chronological terms of office. Dr Blaxall 
and Mr Marlow receive priority by reason of the fact that both have 
already passed away. Dr Cohen and Mr Pauw are still active in the ser- 
vice of the Council — Dr Cohen as a member and chairman of various 
committees, and Mr Pauw as Chairman of the Council. 

The Council has had only two presidents, one of whom is still living. 
The first was Miss Josephine Ethel Wood, who was elected to the 
honorary post in 1952. After her death in 1965 the honour was con- 
ferred on Mr Colin Anderson. 

Dr A. W. Blaxall 

Since Dr A. W. Blaxall was one of the founder members of the S.A. 
National Council for the Blind, and for more than a quarter of a cen- 
tury was deeply involved with its development, it stands to reason that 
a large part of his life and work has already come under review in the 
preceding chapters of this history. This also applies to his connection 
with other organizations. Here the Athlone School for the Blind, the 
Transvaal Society for Blind Blacks, the Palmer Eye Hospital and the 
Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness come to mind. His interests 
and activities embraced such a wide field — and were not confined to 
the welfare of the blind alone — that it is certainly fitting to review the 
many facets of his life and work. 



343 



Arthur William Blaxall was born on 15 May 1891 near London, 
England. After he had completed his schooling at Blackheath, South 
London, he was engaged in clerical work for three years. He then en- 
tered St. Augustine's College, Canterbury, to be trained as a 
"missioner". After that he attended Keble College, Oxford, from 1914 
to 1920. His studies were interrupted, however, from 1915 to 1918, on 
account of military service in the Balkan States* during the first World 
War. 

His term of office in the Anglican Church began in 1921 when he 
was ordained in the diocese of Birmingham. He was appointed as as- 
sistant chaplain, specially charged to minister to the spiritual needs of 
the deaf community in the city. 

In February 1923 he arrived in South Africa, where he was initially 
appointed assistant priest of St. John's Church in Cape Town. In 1925 
he became the rector of Maidand, near Cape Town. 

It was during this period of his ministry that he came into contact 
with blind Coloured children, which led to the establishment of the 
Athlone School for the Blind. This part of the history has already been 
recounted. His interest in the education of the blind had however 
grown to such an extent that he agreed to act as superintendent of the 
Athlone School. 

Blaxall 's major contribution to services to the blind was however 
connected with the establishment of the S.A. National Council for the 
Blind. Mention has already been made of his meeting with Miss Josie 
Wood of the Library for the Blind, the convening of the first confer- 
ence in Bloemfontein in 1928, where he played the leading role and 
presided as chairman, and the conference which was held in Cape 
Town on 18-20 March, where the founding of the Council took place. 

As has been indicated in the chapter describing the initial years of 
the National Council, he tried to avoid the chairmanship, mainly by 
reason of the fact that at that time he was also the Chairman of the S.A. 
National Council for the Deaf It appeared to be difficult for him to 
decide whether he should give more attention to the deaf or to the 
blind. He was deeply interested in the work among the deaf, consider- 
ing that he had started with it in England, and then in Cape Town. 

Nevertheless, after Adv. Bowen's sudden death in 1948, he agreed to 
be nominated as Chairman of the Council. He was the obvious choice, 
and his election was unanimous. He occupied the chair for only two 
terms, and in 1952 was instrumental in having Dr Louis van Schalkwijk 



344 



elected in his stead. During Mr Blaxall's term of office as Chairman his 
chief interest lay in the promotion of welfare services, education, and 
ophthalmic services to the Black blind population. In this connection 
mention should be made of the committee v^hich was appointed with 
the object of improving these services and of his efforts to obtain quali- 
fied teachers for the schools for Black blind children, which were in the 
process of being established. 

After Mr Blaxall's departure from the Athlone School in 1937 he 
setded on the Witwatersrand. In that same year he started a project on 
a small scale in a dwelling house in a suburb of Johannesburg for the 
provision of sheltered employment for blind Blacks. For its manage- 
ment he formed the Transvaal Society for Non- European Blind. A year 
later, in 1938, when the house in Johannesburg had become too small, 
he decided to start an institution near Roodepoort on the West Rand, 
and called it Ezenzeleni. It was subsequently moved to Hammanskraal, 
north of Pretoria, and finally replaced by a new institution named 
Itireleng, in Ga-Rankuwa,^ near Pretoria. At the present time it pro- 
vides sheltered employment and accommodation for more than 350 
blind Blacks. Itireleng can serve as a monument in honour of Arthur 
Blaxall for the insight and initiative which he showed under difficult 
circumstances for the advancement of services to Blind Black people. 
He was the superintendent of Ezenzeleni up to 1954 when he retired. 
The degree of Doctor of Philosophy (honoris causa) was bestowed on 
him by the University of the Witwatersrand in 1956 for outstanding 
services rendered to the blind of South Africa. 

By reason of his interest in both the blind and the deaf, and to pro- 
mote their cause, he made extensive preparations for a visit by Helen 
Keller, the famous deaf-blind American woman, to South Africa in 
1951. This was a unique event which met with widespread interest. A 
description of her visit appears elsewhere. 

Dr Blaxall was fond of writing, and left several valuable booklets 
which had a direct bearing on the history of welfare work for the blind 
in South Africa. Parts of these are strictly personal and contain 
interesting anecdotes about various facets of the activities in which he 
was involved. Descriptions of certain aspects of the work which do not 
appear in the records of the Council are contained in these booklets, 
and have been cited in this history of the Council. 

After the first conference which was held in Bloemfontein in June 
1929, to establish the National Council, Dr Blaxall published a pam- 



345 



phlet entitled Care of South Africa's Blind, which contained a report of 
the proceedings. This is the only existing record of that first meeting. 

In 1937 he issued a booklet called Ten Cameos from Darkest Africa. In 
the foreword he writes, amongst other things: "These are not pictures 
of heathen darkness, although that shadow will also penetrate our 
pages. We write of physical darkness which is called blindness". In this 
booklet he writes about the Athlone School for the Blind, of the work 
and the pupils there, also about meetings on blindness which he ad- 
dressed and journeys with the pupils which he undertook. He con- 
cluded a report of a meeting which was held in Kimberley with the fol- 
lowing words: "So was sown the germ of an idea which has since 
grown into a national organization, doing a fine work and known as 
the League of Friends of the Blind." 

A survey of the work which was done during the first decade (1937- 
1947) of the existence of Ezenzeleni was given in a booklet with the tide 
of The Battle for Light. It was published by the Transvaal Society for the 
Care of Non-European Blind. The last few pages deal with the estab- 
lishment of the Kutlwanong School for the Deaf as well as with its sec- 
tion for deaf-blind pupils. 

Blindness His Servant deals with the life and work of Robert Walter 
Bowen, advocate, member of parliament, and chairman of the S.A. 
National Council for the Blind until his death in 1948. It is a gripping 
story of Bowen's youth, of his being blinded on the batdefield, his stu- 
dies in England, his legal career in Cape Town, his wide interests and 
his chairmanship of the National Council. 

After Helen Keller's departure from South Africa, a description of 
her visit appeared in book form with the title Helen Keller under the 
Southern Cross. It is an illustrated publicadon, which, apart from a sum- 
mary of her journeys, also contains a secdon which was written by her- 
self, and which in some measure revealed her philosophy of life. Prior 
to Helen Keller's arrival in South Africa, Dr Blaxall had published a 
souvenir programme in which her itinerary was set out, and which also 
contained an account of the various forms of welfare work on behalf of 
the blind and deaf which existed in South Africa. At that time, accord- 
ing to the brochure, Dr Blaxall was the Chairman of both the National 
Council for the Blind and the Nadonal Council for the Deaf 

It has been casually mentioned before that Dr Blaxall was particu- 
larly active in connection with welfare work for the deaf He played a 
major role in die establishment of die S.A. Nadonal Council for die 



346 



Deaf in April 1929, and was the Chairman of the Council for many 
years. He also concerned himself with the development of education 
for deaf Blacks, and was the founder of the Kutlwanong School for the 
Deaf near Roodepoort (later moved to the Republic of Bophutha- 
tswana in the vicinity of Rustenburg, Transvaal). 

The story of the establishment of the Kutlwanong School is indeed 
interesting. Dr H. A. Mocke^ states that when Dr Blaxall was the super- 
intendent of Ezenzeleni he often received requests for assistance, also 
on behalf of the deaf. On a certain day in the early forties he received a 
message from the railway police saying that a homeless deaf Black boy 
had been found on the Johannesburg station. He was taken to Ezenze- 
leni, where Dr Blaxall discovered by means of signs that he must have 
boarded a train somewhere, perhaps out of curiosity, with the result 
that he had landed in Johannesburg. Dr Blaxall immediately made 
contact with interested persons with the object of beginning with the 
education of deaf Blacks. "The presence of this deaf boy served as an 
impetus for the establishment of the Kutlwanong School for Bantu 
Deaf [writes Dr Mocke. The school was opened on 1 July 1944. Later 
on a deaf-blind department was also started at the school. 

In 1960 Dr Blaxall announced that he would no longer be available 
for election as a member of the Executive Committee of the S.A. 
National Council for the blind. At that time he had already severed vir- 
tually all his ties with other organizations for the blind. In his Curricu- 
lum Vitae he writes: "December 31st 1960 — plans to resign and lead a 
quiet life". In 1964 he left South Africa to settle in England, where he 
died towards the end of 1970. 

Mr A. B. W. Marlow 

Alfred Baden Willisby Marlow will be remembered in the first place 
as the principal of the Athlone School for the Blind, Bellville South, 
Cape Town, where for twenty seven and a half years he did outstanding 
work as an educationist. The numerous tributes paid to him when he 
retired, as well as at the time of his death in 1968, are evidence of the 
high regard in which he was held and of the dedication with which he 
performed his task. 

However, his service to the blind was by no means restricted to the 
Athlone School for the Blind. In point of fact, it was the role he played 
in the development of the S.A. National Council for the Blind which 
prompts us to give a brief account of his life and work. 



347 



A. B. W. Marlow was born in England in the year 1900. After having 
completed his school career he obtained the Cambridge Senior Certifi- 
cate. He already began teaching at the early age of sixteen. After his 
military service during the First World War ( 1914- 1918), he enrolled as 
a student at Westminster College, London. In 1921 he received the 
Teachers' Certificate with a distinction in Physical Education. In 1922 he 
obtained the B.A. degree from the University of London, with Educa- 
tion, Latin, Mathematics and French as final year subjects. He was then 
appointed as a teacher of French at a high school in Essex. Sub- 
sequently he emigrated to South Africa, where he joined the staff of a 
training college in Transkei. He remained there for four years. After 
that he became Principal of Blythswood College. In 1930 he was ap- 
pointed senior teacher in mathematics at the Boys' High School, Ob- 
servatory, Cape Town, where he later became vice-principal. He held 
this post until the end of 1937, when he was appointed principal of the 
Athlone School for the Blind, Bellville, Cape Town, from January 
1938. With regard to his additional academic studies and qualifica- 
tions, it may be mentioned that while he was mathematics master he 
studied part-time at the University of Cape Town, and in 1931 ob- 
tained an M.A. degree in French.* It is also worthy of note that, by 
reason of the fact that he considered it necessary to become proficient 
in the Afrikaans language, he passed the "Hoer Taalbond" examin- 
ation in the thirties. 

When Marlow accepted the principalship of the Athlone School for 
the Blind in January 1938 (after the departure of Dr Blaxall), the school 
was still situated in temporary buildings at Faure. However, the pre- 
liminary work connected with the building of a new school south of 
Bellville had already begun. He set about the task of planning the 
buildings with his characteristic zeal, with the result that the first sec- 
tion was occupied as early as July 1941. 

Mr Marlow became a member of the National Council for the first 
time when he attended the fifth biennial meeting in 1939, as one of the 
representatives of the Board of Management of the Athlone School for 
the Blind. He was elected a member of the Executive committee at 
the next biennial meeting in 1941. 

A feature of his membership was his special interest in the Consti- 
tution of the Council. He believed that the effective functioning of the 
National Council depended on its constitution. Therefore, in his 
opinion, the constitution was the factor which determined whether the 



348 



highest possible degree of service could be provided to all blind per- 
sons. In addition he had set himself the task of making sure that all 
projects undertaken by the Council were meticulously carried out in 
accordance with the provisions of the constitution. 

When the co-ordinating function of the Council, according to his 
view, failed to bring about fully the necessary provision of services to 
all blind persons in this country, he put forward a proposal to consider 
the desirability of converdng the Council into a National Insdtute.^ The 
matter was referred to the Executive Committee for investigation. It 
has previously been stated that considerable opposidon was encoun- 
tered from the affiliated societies and consequendy the scheme had to 
be abandoned. However, it had its merits, since with the amending of 
the consdtution in 1958, wider powers were given to the Council to 
undertake its own projects. 

Mr Marlow's share in the amendments to the consdtudon which had 
become necessary with the formadon of the two divisions, is worthy 
of mendon. He was appointed to advise the Division for Coloured 
Blind during its period of preparadon. Tragically he was deprived of 
attending the meeting of the Council at which the amended consd- 
tudon was approved and finalised^ as he died a month before the 
meedng took place. 

Since 1952 he had served the Council as its first and second vice- 
chairman during various terms, and at the biennial meedng of the 
Council held on 28 to 30 October 1964 he was elected Chairman of the 
Council. With regard to this, Theo E. G. Cutten writes as follows:^ 
"As Chairman, Mr Marlow was quiedy presuasave and, while 
himself convinced of the course discussion should take and the 
correct decisions that should be made, scruplously observed the 
impartial atdtude of the chair in allowing those who disagreed 
with him to state their points of view." 
He served as Chairman for only one term (1964-1966). In his chair- 
man's report which covers the period, he gives a clear exposition of the 
growth of the Council over the years, and the major role it had played 
in welfare work for the blind, not only in South Africa, but also in 
other parts of the world. In connection with the unique pattern of 
specialised committees for which provision is made in the consdtution, 
he writes as follows: 

"The 18th Biennial Report, which I am privileged here to pre- 
sent, is itself, by its composite nature, witness to the evolution 



349 



that has taken place; for, in view of the growing complexity and 
diversity of Council's activities, I have deemed it desirable not to 
attempt to draft the whole, but to ask each of the Chairmen of the 
main Council Committees to write his own report on those sec- 
tions of the Council's work for which his committee has been re- 
sponsible during the past two years."* 

The above provides a clear picture of the situation with regard to the 
development of the provision of services by the Council in that specific 
period. 

Mr Marlow on two occasions represented the National Council 
abroad at conferences of the International Council for the Education 
of the Visually Handicapped, the first in Bussum, Holland in 1952, 
and the second in Hanover, West Germany in 1962. After the con- 
ference in Bussum he undertook a study tour through Holland and 
Belgium and wrote an informative report on it. 

In Imfama of April 1967 Mr Marlow wrote a frank and thought- 
provoking article under the heading: In Retrospect. He wrote about 
himself, about blindness, his pupils, his school choir trained by him- 
self, their successes, and about the members of his staff. We quote only 
one of the many meaningful sayings: 

"The degree of success a teacher may achieve is the extent to 
which his pupils make him forget they are blind." 

We conclude this review of his life and work with the last paragraph 
of the abovementioned article: 

"But, problems or no problems, the years spent working 
amongst and with the blind boys and girls of the Athlone School 
for the Blind will remain the happiest of all, even if my only 
epitaph will be 

He did but pass this way 
And tarried a while 
To build and to teach 
And to make a little music 
Among the children he loved." 

After his retirement his health began to deteriorate. At times he was 
unable to attend meetings of the Executive Committee, but continued 
to serve the Council as far as his strength permitted. He died on 23 
September 1968. 



350 



Dr Walter Cohen 

When Walter Cohen attended a biennial meeting of the S.A. 
National Council for the Blind for the first time in October 1944, he 
was a member of the five-man delegation of the Transvaal Society for 
the Care of Non- European Blind. ^ It was the beginning of a long and 
fruitful, yet at times stormy, connection with the National Council, 
which would last without interruption up to the present time. His ser- 
vice to his blind colleagues, however, did not take place solely within 
the framework of the National Council, as he was also connected with 
organizations which operated outside the Council's sphere of work. I t 
even extended to services to other categories of handicapped persons. 
Before enlarging on this aspect we must first turn our attention to the 
years of his youth. It is mainly a story of the struggle of a young blind 
man carving out a place in life for himself. 

Walter Cohen was born on 3 July 19 10 in Kimberley where he began 
his school career at an ordinary school. His father died in 1918, and in 
1922 his mother moved to Bloemhof where she became the manage- 
ress of a hotel. Walter was then sent to a school in Johannesburg to 
continue his education. Shortly after this he began to experience prob- 
lems with his eyes, and in his matriculation year in 1926 he was com- 
pelled to leave the school on account of deteriorating eyesight. 
Ophthalmologists diagnosed his condition as glaucoma. He returned 
to Bloemhof and helped his mother in the hotel bar. At the end of 
1928 he accompanied her to Germany (with financial aid from their 
relations) to undergo treatment, but the ophthalmologist there could 
do nothing to improve his condition. After spending two months in 
Europe they returned to South Africa. He was then completely blind. 

Both mother and son were desperate. They knew of no societies for 
the blind until a commercial traveller told them about the Library for 
the Blind in Grahamstown, from which they subsequently received an 
aluminium sheet with the braille symbols of the alphabet embossed on 
it, as well as a braille manual. The latter was read to him by ac- 
quaintances, and, with the aid of the braille signs on the aluminium 
sheet, he taught himself braille. He became a regular reader of the Li- 
brary. Later he also received a braille writing frame and a style*^ from 
the library and began to write braille. The next step was the acquisition 
of an old typewriter. He taught himself typewriting, and could then 
type . the menus of the hotel and help his mother with her cor- 



351 



respondence. After hearing of the "Nuwe Pionier", a periodical in 
braille which was issued by the Worcester School for the Blind, he also 
learnt Afrikaans braille. 

His urge to study further was stimulated by the achievement of 
another blind person, John Tennant, who had obtained the B.A. de- 
gree by means of a correspondence course. Cohen first passed the ma- 
triculation examination and then began his B.A. course. He chose 
psychology and Xhosa for his major subjects. He relates that some of 
the customers in the bar used to read to him so that he could copy the 
lectures in braille on the writing frame. A policeman who knew Xhosa 
helped him with the language. While working in the bar he was ob- 
liged to know the precise position of each kind of liquor on the shelves. 
He was helped, however, by his clients, with whom he was on very 
good terms. During that time his mother presented him with a piano 
accordion which he learnt to play by himself and with which he could 
entertain the customers. 

With regard to his studies, he admits that it was providential that he 
had decided on Xhosa as a major subject for his degree. It stood him 
good stead in later life. 

In 1937 his mother died and his uncle took over the hotel. In 1938 
he moved to Johannesburg, where he first lived with his brother, then 
with acquaintances and later in a boarding house in Hillbrow. At that 
time there was an accordion competition in Johannesburg. His 
brother entered his name, and he won. This opened the door for per- 
formances in various places of entertainment, as well as on the radio. 
In the meantime he continued with his studies and towards the end of 
1938 he passed the second year of the B.A. course. From December 
1938 to July 1939 he was a member of a concert group which toured 
the whole of South Africa. He continued with his studies on the tour. 
Friends posted the lectures in braille to the various places where the 
troupe appeared. In July 1939 he was back in Johannesburg, and in 
November 1939 he passed his final examination for the B.A. degree of 
the University of South Africa. 

On a day in April 1940, shortly after the beginning of the Second 
World War, he was with his brother in Krugersdorp, where he met a 
certain person. The following day he received a telephone call from the 
same man, and the conversation went as follows: The person: "What 
about joining the Union Defence Force Cohen: "Are you nuts.^ I am 
blind". Nevertheless the following day he accompanied the man to an 



352 



office where he had an interview with a brigadier. The result was an 
appointment in the intelHgence section of the Department of Defence. 

He was in the service of this department from May 1940 to 
November 1945. Meanwhile he continued with his studies and in 1943 
obtained the M.A. degree in English, with distinction, from the Uni- 
versity of South Africa. 

After his demobilisation from the Department of Defence in 
November 1945, the Department of Non- European Affairs of the 
Johannesburg City Council was looking for someone with a knowl- 
edge of psychology and a Black language. Since he had taken 
psychology and Xhosa as the major subjects for his B.A. degree, he was 
well qualified for the post, and was appointed. 

He entered the service of the City Council of Johannesburg on 27 
November 1945. When the Department of Non- European Affairs 
came under the management of the West Rand Administration Boad 
on 1 July 1973, he was transferred. At the time of his retirement he was ^ 
reappointed and in 1978 received an award for devoted service from 
the West Rand Administration Board. 

His involvement with welfare services to the blind originated from 
his meeting with the Rev. A. W. Blaxall in 1941. The latter was the 
superintendent of the institution for Black blind persons at Ezenzeleni 
near Roodepoort at that time. It was not long before Cohen served on 
the Executive Committee of the Transvaal Society for the Care of Non- 
European Blind. He did very valuable work on this committee and 
was the chairman ot the Society at one time. His connection with the 
above led to contact with the Johannesburg Society to Help Civilian 
Blind. In 1943 he was elected a member of the Executive Committee 
under the chairmanship of Mrs G. K. Nowlan, who had then already 
occupied the chair for approximately 1 7 years, since before the time of 
the establishment of the Council. In 1946 he was elected to the chair. 
After a year he was succeeded by Mr D. N. Myrray, who would after- 
wards become the honorary treasurer of the National Council. Dr 
Cohen served as a committee member of the Society from 1943 to 
1976, when he resigned. 

Before proceeding to discuss Dr Cohen's role in the activities of the 
National Council, we wish to describe some of his numerous "outside" 
interests. The first of these is his connection with Lions International, a 
service club which operates internationally and has branches in most 
countries of the world. 



353 



His first contact with this club was when he addressed the Krugers- 
dorp branch. He was nominated as an honorary member but could 
not attend the meetings on account of the distance from his home. In 
February 1963 he was asked to address the Johannesburg Wilds Club, 
and was immediately invited to join. Shortly afterwards he was elected 
secretary of the branch, and served in that capacity until 1972. In that 
year he received the award for the "Secretary of the Year" from all 
Lions Clubs in the whole of the Republic. In 1974 he was elected presi- 
dent of his club for that year. Lions International, with more than a 
million members, perform a great work in connection with the welfare 
of the blind and the prevention of blindness throughout the world. 
The organization supplies die well-known Banks braille machine to blind 
people everywhere 4t a nominal price. It is called after Alfred Banks, its de- 
signer in America. The Lions Clubs have already provided considerable as- 
sistance to welfare organizations in Soudi Africa. An example of diis is die 
financial aid given to die League of Friends of die Blind for die erection of 
die Strandfontein Home for die Blind near Cape Town. Lions also intro- 
duced a project named Bright Sight. Discarded spectacles are collected and 
dieir frames supplied to diose who need diem but are unable to afford new 
ones. The scheme is controlled by die Bureau for die Prevention of Blind- 
ness. The principle of providing assistance to blind persons is applied 
diroughout die world since it is written into die constitudon of die organi- 
zation. 

When die Soudiem Transvaal Regional Welfare Board came into 
existence in 1948 Dr Cohen was elected as a member. He remained a 
member until 1963, and was re-elected in 1975. To illustrate his wide 
interests, a list of organizations with which he has been connected at 
different times over the years is given below: 

Chairman of the Non- European Committee of the Transvaal 

Cripple Care Society (8 years) 

Member of the Johannesburg branch of the S.A. National Tuber- 
culosis Association (4 years) 

Member of the Committee of the National War Memorial Healdi 
Foundation (6 years) 

Member of the Indian Welfare Society (2 years) 

Foundation member of the Rosebank Bowling Club for the Blind 

in combination with the Rosebank Bowling Club. 

Member of the Board of Management of the Colonel Rowland 

Home for the Deaf- Blind and the Aged Deaf. 



354 



He was elected as a member of the Executive Committee of the 
Council for the first time in 1950. As time went on he was nominated 
on committees and sub-committees, and subsequently served on most 
of the Council's special committees at different times. When the activi- 
ties of these committees were under review in previous chapters, his 
participation received attention. The following are the committees and 
sub-committees on which Dr Cohen serves at present: 

Executive Committee of the National Council 

Committee for Blind Blacks (Chairman) 

Committee of the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness 

Committee for Employment 

Finance and General Purposes Committee 

Dagbestuur'^ 

Committee for International Relations (Chairman) 
Gaps in Services Sub-Committee (Chairman) _ 
Committee for the Multiple Handicapped (Chairman) ^ 
Management Committee for Braille Services (Chairman) 
Council's representative in the Division for Indian Blind 
Executive Committee of the S.A. Federal Council for the Re- 
habilitation of the Disabled. 
Dr Cohen was elected as one of seven members of the Council "on 
the ground of their knowledge and services in the field of welfare work 
for blind people". 

He is also the present editor of Imfama, the mouthpiece of the 
Council, and of two magazines which the Council publishes in the 
Black languages, namely Sedibeng and Ilanga Lethu. These two maga- 
zines were reported on in a previous chapter. 

Dr Cohen was elected second Vice- Chairman of the Council in 1954, 
and in 1956 first Vice- Chairman. He held this office until the death of 
the Chairman, Dr Louis van Schalkwijk. By virtue of the fact that he 
was the first Vice- Chairman, he deputised as Chairman until the next 
election. This took place in October 1962, when he was elected to the 
chair. He officiated in this capacity until 1964, when he was succeeded 
by Mr A.B.W. Marlow. 

In his Chairman's report^^ Dr Cohen presents a detailed account of 
the developments which took place during his term of office (1962— 
1964). The majority of these matters received attention in preceding 
chapters. Nevertheless, one aspect of his report should be mentioned, 
namely Dr Cohen's reference to the achievements of blind persons 



355 



during that period. This matter Hes near to his heart, and in Imfama he 
consistently refers to such persons. It is his aim to bring the cause of 
die blind to the attention of the public by means of this publicadon. In 
diis connection he writes in his report: 

"A blind man in the person of Kenneth Mclntyre became profes- 
sor of history at the University of Natal, while another blind man, 
Pieter Pronk, returned to his old job as a diesel motor mechanic 
in Pretoria - both are totally blind. A blind Coloured man, 
David Giebbelaar of Cape Town, opened a general dealer's 
business, while another blind Coloured man, Frans Raman, ob- 
tained a post as a teacher in a high school for sighted pupils in the 
Cape." 

He also mentions participation in the community by concert groups 
consisting of blind artists. Various organizadons of all population 
groups take part in these activities. He reports further on two blind 
writers whose books had appeared at that time. In this connecdon he 
writes : 

"An autobiography such as Kindly Light by Miss Marjorie Watson, 
the blind Vice-President of the National Council, or Kinden van 
die DonAeri* by J. C. Mostert of the S.A. Blind Workers Organiza- 
tion, likewise give publicity to our work while enlightening the 
reader on the feelings and emodons of a blind person." 
Dr Cohen had a very important share in devising braille systems for 
Black languages. He was chairman of the Technical Committee which 
was established for that purpose by the National Council in 1950. 
Blind braille experts from the Black populadon groups played a sig- 
nificant role in this undertaking. After years of intensive study and re- 
search it can be said that 1967 was the year when the work had reached 
compledon. Long after that, however, alteradons were still made to 
the systems. It was only in 1976 that a bound volume of the completed 
systems was presented to the Minister of Plural Reladons at a meedng 
of the Nadonal Council. 

In 1962 Dr Cohen received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy 
(honoris causa) from the University of the Witwatersrand, for his great 
work in connection with braille in the Black languages of the Republic. 

His fame as a braille expert became known in international circles. 
In 1960 he was invited to serve on the World Braille Council. At a 
meeting of the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind which he at- 
tended in New York in 1964 he was elected chairman of the World 



356 



Braille Council, an office which he held until 1974. This was an out- 
standing achievement for a South African. 

In 1974 the World Braille Council became part of the Cultural Com- 
mittee of the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind, and in 1977 
Dr Cohen was elected as Chairman of the Sub- Committee on Braille 
Linguistics. 

His connection with the World Braille Council implied that all pos- 
sible problems with regard to braille over the entire world would be 
referred to him for comment and, if need be, for a solution. In this 
connection it can be stated that his advice was sought on Samoan 
braille, braille in three other languages of Polynesia and two of Red 
Indian tribes in South America. In this case Spanish braille had to be 
taken into consideration. He was unable to reply to an enquiry from 
Afghanistan, as his amanuensis could not decipher the writing. He also 
received enquiries from numerous other countries. Mr A.C. Zeelie of 
Braille Services was of invaluable assistance with all this work. 

As chairman of the World Braille Council he was a member of the 
Executive Committee of the World Council for the Welfare of the 
Blind, and in this capacity he attended meetings in Belgrade in 1967 
and in Moscow in 1972. Although he was barred from attending the 
meeting of the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind in New 
Delhi, India, in 1969, he was nevertheless elected chairman of the 
World Braille Council in his absence. In 1974 he attended the meeting 
of the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind in Sao Paulo as a 
member of the National Council's delegation. The other members of 
the delegation were Mr Theo Pauw and Mr CM. Bassa, with Dr JJ. 
Fourie as an observer. 

Walter Cohen was married to Bertie Herring (also blind) from 
Graaff Reinet in 1946. She was introduced to him by Miss Marjorie 
Watson of Cape Town, who taught her braille by means of corre- 
spondence. A very happy marriage ended sadly when Bertie passed 
away in 1969. She had worked on a telephone exchange in Johannes- 
burg, and was a very pleasant, outgoing person. In 1970 he was mar- 
ried again, to Gladys Evans, the blind founder of the Guide Dog 
movement in South Africa, of which more will be reported in the fol- 
lowing chapter. 

Walter Cohen is a person who takes an interest in cultural matters. 
For the past 28 years he has regularly attended symphony concerts in 
the Johannesburg City Hall, and enjoys visiting the theatre. He pos- 



357 



sesses a large number of classical music records, and is widely read. He 
is especially interested in Jewish history of the Middle Ages. He has 
many contacts at all levels of the community, and can be called a well- 
adjusted blind person. At meetings he can state his case most convin- 
cingly, partly owing to the fact that he is an exceptionally fluent 
speaker. 

The R.W. Bowen Medal for meritorious service to the blind will be 
awarded to him at the Golden Jubilee commemorative function of the 
National Council in November 1979. 

Mr Theo Pauw 

For a number of years Mr Theo Pauw simultaneously filled two im- 
portant posts in the field of services to the blind. From 1961 he was the 
Principal of the Worcester School for the Blind and since 1966 he has 
been the Chairman of the South African National Council for the 
Blind. His principalship and his chairmanship were connected in many 
respects. In the first instance he guided the blind child to adulthood, 
and in the second he gave direction to his own final product in order 
to assist the latter to take his place in the community in a meaningful 
manner. We can therefore assume that his service to the child led quite 
naturally to service to the adult. No one else can explain this transition 
better than himself, as recorded in the 1978 report of the Worcester 
School for the Blind: 

"The programme of tuition, instrucdon and educadon which the 
school offers, is aimed at leading the visually handicapped child 
to personal independence so as to enable him to leave school with 
the prospect of becoming a contribudng and well-adjusted mem- 
ber of his immediate environment, an acceptable blind person in 
a seeing community and a responsible citizen of his country." 
These and numerous other pronouncements over the years indispu- 
tably demonstrate the faith Mr Pauw has in the potential of the blind, 
and their right to full development. He uses every opportunity to pre- 
sent the blind person to the general public as "somebody with self- 
esteem and a citizen in his own right, entided to be given fair and suit- 
able opportunities to develop according to his own potendal with a 
body, an intellect and an emodonal life peculiar to himself. 

We now proceed to give an account of the contribution made by Mr 
Pauw to the educational and welfare aspects of services rendered to the 
visually handicapped. It is also fitdng at this stage to consider his edu- 



358 



cational career before he joined the Worcester School for the BHnd. In 
that early period he played a very active role in the field of ordinary 
provincial education, where he already showed qualities of leadership. 
The story of his youth is most interesting, and follows below. 

Theodore Pauw was born on 1 July 1918 at Fort Jameson (now Chi- 
pata) in the former Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), the son of 
missionary parents from South Africa. He received his early education 
and instruction at home from his mother. At that time his father was 
stationed at Madzi Mayo, where there was no school which he could 
attend. His mother, who was a qualified teacher, also taught his three 
elder brothers. When Theo was in Std. 1, his father was transferred 
back to Fort Jameson where there was a small school. 

The medium was English and his mother taught him Afrikaans (his 
home language) on Saturdays. He made such good progress at the 
little school and with his mother that when he was sent to the Hotten- 
tots Holland High School at Somerset West in South Africa, to begin at 
standard seven, he experienced no adaptation problems. At the 
mission station he enjoyed a carefree life as a child, and lived close to 
nature. At a certain stage he was more fluent in the language of the in- 
habitants, Chinyanya (now known as Chichewa), than in his own, Afri- 
kaans. As the son of missionary parents his education at home was 
based on the Christian faith which left a lasting impression on him.^^ 

After having passed the matriculation examination at the Hottentots 
Holland High School in Somerset West he enrolled at the University of 
Stellenbosch, where he obtained the degrees B.A., M.A. and M. Ed. 
(cum laude). He played a leading role in student affairs, and in 1941 
was elected to the highest office in the student community, namely 
chairman of the Students' Council. In that same year he was elected 
head student of the men's residence, Wilgerhof. In 1940 he became the 
chairman of the University Debating Society. 

After having completed his university studies he was appointed as a 
teacher at the Boys' High School at Paarl in 1942. Between 1950 and 
1961 he was the principal of three schools, the last being the Hotten- 
tots Holland High School at Somerset West where he had been a pupil 
twenty years before. In 1961 he left to become Principal of the Worces- 
ter School for the Blind. 

His teaching career was interrupted during the years 1952 and 1953 
when he entered the Institute of Education of the University of London 
for further study. 



359 



During his period of service in the Cape Department of Education 
he played a leading role in the professional teachers' associations. 
From 1956 to 1957 he was the chairman of the Suid-Afrikaanse On- 
derwysersunie (S.A.O.U.) and at the same time Chairman of the Joint 
Council of the S.A.O.U. and the South African Teachers' Association. 
From 1960 to 1961 he was the Vice- Chairman of the Federal Council 
of Teachers' Associations in South Africa. He was also a member of the 
Departmental Examinations Committee of the Cape Department of 
Education for the period 1957 to 1961. 

It is clear from the above information that he had distinguished 
himself in various fields of ordinary education, and there were many 
indications that he would continue to do so. Nevertheless he decided 
to change over to the education of the blind, and to put his talents at 
the disposal of blind children as well as blind adults. It is obvious that 
his interest was not confined to the education of the blind child, but 
that it very soon extended to include the well-being of blind adults. Al- 
though he had been appointed to the school in 1961, he did not attend 
the biennial meeting of the National Council in 1962. The reason for 
this was that the Worcester School for the Blind had no representation 
at that meeting of the National Council. The matter was rectified in the 
meantime, and Mr Pauw was a member of the school's delegation to 
the biennial meeting of the Council which was held in 1964. Already at 
this first meeting he attended he was elected as Vice- Chairman, and at 
the following meeting, held in 1966, as Chairman of Council. There- 
after he was continually re-elected and at present still occupies the 
chair. 

The development which took place at the school during the period 
of Mr Pauw's principalship is described in the chapter on the history 
and activities of the affiliated bodies. There are a few matters in this 
connection, however, which must be mentioned at this stage, since 
they also concern the adult blind person and not only the pupil. 

Firstly we should mention the introduction of the optacon, and elec- 
tronic reading device which enables a blind person to read ordinary 
print. Mr Pauw, as the Principal of the School for the Blind, played a 
very important role in the acquisition of this instrument, and in the 
training for its use. The first optacon course in South Africa was con- 
ducted at the School by an instructress who had been engaged from 
overseas. Furthermore we can also state that the first training of blind 
programmers for computers in South Africa was introduced by the 



360 



Worcester School for the Blind in collaboration with the Cape College 
of Advanced Technical Education. Mr Pauw was the prime mover in 
this project. 

It is certainly worthy of mention that the School was the first to ap- 
proach the University of South Africa with the request to introduce a 
course for teachers of the blind, which resulted in the introduction of 
the Diploma in Specialised Education (D.S.E.). Mr Pauw has officiated 
as co-examiner since its inception. 

In 1964 the School for the Blind convened the first South African 
Conference on the Education of the Blind and Partially Sighted. It was 
followed by similar conferences in 1966 at Worcester, 1969 in Pretoria 
at the Prinshof School for the Partially Sighted, 197 1 at Worcester, and 
in 1975 once more in Pretoria. 

A cause which was always near to his heart was the important role of 
the parents in the life of their blind child, and the necessity of close 
contact between parents and school. In this connection he developed 
"a system of contact meetings in various centres of the country, with 
the purpose of bringing together parents, past pupils and interested 
people from time to time and of making them personally acquainted 
with the developments and plans of the school, as well as its objectives 
with regard to the education of visually handicapped children, and the 
relationship between school, home and community". In connection 
with this, accommodation is provided at the school where parents with 
pre-school children can stay when they come to visit the school and to 
make the acquaintance of the staff, even before the child is admitted. 

Mr Pauw takes a special interest in the education of the deaf-blind, 
for whom there is a department at the school. He has made an inten- 
sive study of the subject, and has attended five international confer- 
ences in this connection. At some of these he delivered addresses. He is 
a member of the editorial committee of The Educator'^ and is respon- 
sible for a column on deaf-blindness. 
Here follows a summary of his visits on behalf of the deaf- blind: 
1968 - Conference at St Michelgestel School for the Deaf, Hol- 
land 

1971 - Conference in Boston, U.S.A., where he was elected as a 
member of the Executive Committee of the international 
body 

1974 - Conference at Shrewsbury, England, where he delivered 
an address 



361 



1976 ~ Conference in Sydney, Australia, where he delivered an 

address on guidance to parents 

1977 — Helen Keller World Conference in New York, where he was 

appointed group leader and introducer of die subject: "Life 
skills, Basic Self-care, Mobility, Communication". 

In the chapter on international relations of the National Council, 
mention has already been made of the overseas journeys which Mr 
Pauw has undertaken as a representative of the Council. With regard to 
purely educational matters, he attended four quinquennial confer- 
ences of the International Council for the Education of the Visually 
Handicapped (I.C.E.V.H.). These conferences were held respectively in 
Hanover (West Germany), Boston, Madrid and Paris. In 1967 he was 
elected as a member of the Executive Committee and since then has 
continued to serve in that capacity. 

Mr Pauw's international activities and the role he plays in overseas 
conference halls has enhanced the image of South Africa in the sphere 
of special education and the welfare of the blind, which includes the 
prevention of blindness. Mr Pauw is held in high regard in many parts 
of the world and can therefore be considered a true ambassador for 
South Africa. 

With regard to our own country, Mr Pauw serves on the boards of 
management of various bodies, and is a member of departmental and 
other committees. A list of these follows: 

The Board of the South African Library for the Blind - since 
1970 

Interdepartmental Advisory Committee on Educational Services 
— since 1977 

Committee for the Care of the Handicapped of the General 
Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa - since 
1976 

Interdepartmental Committee for investigating the extension 
of Educational Opportunities to White Blind in South Africa and 
South West Africa (1969-1970) 

Central Co-ordinating Council for the Provision of Literature to 

the Visually Handicapped (1968-1977). 
As Chairman of die S.A. Nadonal Council for die Blind, he serves ex offi- 
cio on all special committees of the Council. While head of die School for 
die Blind he officiated as die Secretary of its Board of Management. 



362 



After his appointment as Principal of the Worcester School for the 
Blind in 1961 he was granted leave to undertake an extensive study 
tour through Europe and America. Mrs Pauw accompanied him. On his 
return he wrote a comprehensive report which can be regarded as a com- 
paradve study of the educadon of the visually handicapped. It also serves as 
a guide to persons who intend going on an overseas study tour. This like- 
wise applies to reports on his other visits to countries abroad. 

In addition to his duties as principal of the School, Mr Pauw is also 
the Superintendent of the Workshop and Homes for the Blind, which 
were started on a modest scale by Dr P. E. Biesenbach and have since 
developed into an immense organization in the field of employment 
for the blind. The fact that the school and the workshop are both the 
responsibility of the Principal assures the pupil, who is destined for in- 
ternal factory work, of a form of training at the school which will link 
up with the type of work he will do at the workshop. In this way the 
Principal becomes directly involved with the placement of the pupil in 
employment. This applies chiefly to those pupils who cannot be placed 
in the open labour market. With this in mind, the efforts which are 
made for the training and placement of the mentally retarded blind 
child should also be noted here. There is a well-equipped department 
for this purpose not only at the school, but also in the workshop itself. 
It appears that the numbers of this group are on the increase, and 
timely provision for them has become an urgent necessity. 

As Chairman of the S.A. Nadonal Council for the Blind Mr Pauw 
has always been impartial, fair and tolerant towards any member who 
wished to state his case. Nevertheless, his guidance from the chair is 
such that he will permit no digression from the subject under discus- 
sion, and in a subtle way will give direction to the debate. 

He is fully bilingual, and is medculous in ensuring that jusdce is done to 
both official languages. In the past he was somedmes faced with controver- 
sial matters and his tactful and unbiased handling of the situation and 
good insight generally enabled him to find a sadsfactory solution. 

Mr Pauw is a man of culture. He is interested in the arts and has a 
deep feeling for everything which is connected with the church and 
national matters. Mrs Pauw shares all his interests. She has a university 
degree in the sciences and has on various occasions assisted at the 
school, especially with regard to senior mathematics. As a couple they 
make an important contribution, not only in respect of the education 
of the blind child, but also in connection with a wide spectrum of mat- 



363 



ters of public interest. 

A golden thread runs through the numerous pronouncements made 
by Mr Pauw in speeches over the years, namely the emphasis he lays on 
the dignity of man, whatever his handicap may be. One must look be- 
yond the handicap in order to estimate the value of the real person — 
the person with his own potential. In conclusion we quote the follow- 
ing from an address delivered in Pretoria in 1978 at a conference on 
the handicapped child 

"The accent has now shifted from the disability itself to the per- 
son with self-esteem. The trend to relegate people to a common 
level on account of a shared visual handicap is making way for the 
acknowledgement of the potential of the individual, especially by 
reason of the fact that, in spite of his visual handicap, he possesses 
valuable personal qualities. This should enable him to receive fair 
and reasonable opportunities to develop these assets fully in 
order to improve his prospects for living a full and satisfying 
life." (Translated) 
This was the basis of his educational thinking which he put into 
practice throughout his eighteen years of service as Principal of the 
Worcester School for the Blind. One can be assured that he will con- 
tinue in this direction in the interests of the blind of the country, as 
member and Chairman of the S.A. National Council for the Blind. 

Miss Josie Wood 

Miss Josephine Ethel Wood was the first person to be elected Life 
President of the S.A. National Council for the Blind. It took place at a 
meeting of Council held on 24-25 September 1952 in Grahams town. 
This outstanding honour was bestowed on her by reason of the fact 
that she was the founder and for many years the head of the S.A. Li- 
brary for the Blind, and secondly for the leading role she played in re- 
gard to the founding of the S.A. Nadonal Council for the Blind in 
1929.^^ For these reasons one will find her name frequently mentioned 
in this history in connection with matters pertaining to services to the 
blind even before the establishment of the Council. 

If one encounters in life somebody who has served a cause with so 
much devodon and singularity of purpose until such an advanced age 
— in her 90th year she still filled her place in the Library — one is in- 
clined to ask what was the spur, the incentive; and furthermore: Where 
did it begin Here are a few facts. 



364 



Josephine Wood was born in Grahamstown on 22 January 1874, the 
daughter of George Samuel Wood, first Mayor of Grahamstown and a 
descendent of the 1820 British setders. Her grandfather,^^ also George, 
who as a young man had an unhappy home life in England caused by 
his stepfather, decided to join the British setders. He apprenticed him- 
self to Richard Smith and arrived in Algoa Bay in the Aurora. Smith, 
however, was a cruel master and in the commotion which existed dur- 
ing the landing George slipped away on the beach. On account of the 
fact that he was not registered as a settler, he had no transport and was 
not entitled to receive any rations. Nobody will know how he managed 
to survive during the first few extremely difficult years, because George 
Wood never spoke about it, not even after he had become a successful 
and respected businessman^' in Grahamstown and a member of the 
Cape Legislative Assembly. The only possession he brought with him 
and which is today kept as a precious heirloom is his father's "quizzing 
glass" (eye-glass). 

Josie Wood was thus descended from hardy settler stock with perse- 
verance and a sense of responsibility towards the community as their 
chief traits. No wonder that these same characteristics were inherited 
by her. 

After Miss Wood had completed her school career at the Diocesan 
School for Girls in Grahamstown, she was trained as a teacher and 
started giving private instruction to a niece and a nephew in Johannes- 
burg. In 1909 she left for England, where she travelled extensively. 
After her return she nursed invalids in her home and later assisted with 
child welfare. She continued with this until the influenza epidemic in 
1918, when she met Miss Eleanor Comber. This meedng led to the es- 
tablishment of the S.A. Library for the Blind, which has been dealt 
with in a previous chapter. 

Characteristic of Miss Wood as librarian was her personal interest in 
each individual reader. Often it was left to her (and later to others of 
her staff) to send books according to the taste of the readers. Since it is 
a library which operates from a distance there was continual corre- 
spondence between her and the borrowers. In this way she got to know 
their interests. In connection with this correspondence we quote the 
following by the editor of Imfama in the issue of June 1965: 

"Their letters to her were not perfunctory ~ they were to a friend, 
and that atmosphere between librarian and reader has permeated 
the entire staff' of the library. The interest of Miss Wood and her 



365 



staff in the small affairs of a blind man they would never meet, 
was always manifest in the letter he received. If it was a harrassed 
student, a housewive seeking a recipe, a discursive rambling 
reader like your Editor, books, if not in Grahamstown, were pro- 
cured from other sources overseas. Over it all lay the guiding ge- 
nius of Josie Wood, quiet, kind and always intelligent and dedi- 
cated." 

She not only supplied books to the ordinary reader, but took great 
trouble, as indicated above, to obtain literature for university students 
from overseas. This was generally from the Student's Library of the 
Royal National Institute for the Blind in London. In this manner she 
rendered valuable service to the older generation of blind students, 
such as Philip Schutte, later an attorney, John Tennant, the first blind 
man who obtained a B.A. degree in South Africa, and Walter Cohen. 
This was before the Worcester Braille Press was able to provide the ne- 
cessary study material and before the magnetic tape had come into use. 

She always attempted to provide books for her readers in the me- 
dium required. Besides the reading matter in braille, the Library had a 
fair collection of books in Moon type for older readers. When she 
learnt that the R.N. LB. had started producing talking books she was 
immediately prepared to import these. This took place as early as 1936. 
These books, coming from the R.N. LB., were naturally all in English. 
She was anxious that talking books should also be made available in 
Afrikaans. To achieve this she brought the matter before the Executive 
Committee and the Council on several occasions, but nobody would 
embark on such a huge undertaking with its enormous cost. As was her 
nature, this did not deter her, and when the present writer visited Lon- 
don in 1947 he had a request from Miss Wood to investigate the possi- 
bility of having Afrikaans books read on to master records in South Af- 
rica and then sent to the R.N. LB. in London for processing and the 
production of copies. Unfortunately also this plan proved to be im- 
practicable and the Afrikaans book had to wait until tape recording 
came into use. 

It gave the Council great satisfaction to observe that Miss Wood's 
services were acknowledged outside the circle of blind welfare. In 1952 
she received the degree of M.A. (honoris causa) from the University of 
Rhodes. In 1955 Rotary honoured her with the award of the Token of 
Esteem. In 1961 she was made Honorary Member of the S.A. Library 



366 



Association. In 1962 she received the freedom of the City of Grahams- 
town. 

On all these occasions she was lauded for the outstanding services 
she rendered both to the blind of our country and to the community in 
general. 

In 1963 the S.A. National Council for the Blind awarded her the 
R.W. Bowen Medal 'Tor lifelong and meritorious service to the cause 
of the blind and the prevention of blindness". This award was intro- 
duced by resolution of the fifteenth meeting of the National Council, 
held in Cape Town in 1960. The first recipient was Miss Wood, a 
founder member of the S.A. National Council for the Blind. 

As far as her personal life was concerned, she was a lover of nature, 
especially of birds. She also did wood-carving and made sketches. The 
latter she sold for the benefit of the Library. She was a deeply religious 
person with a great love for the Cathedral which stands in the centre of 
Grahamstown. In this connection Miss Mary Spurling, who was very 
close to her and succeeded her as librarian, writes as follows: 

"Her religion meant a great deal to her and she attended services 
in the Cathedral regularly and was a faithful supporter of the 
Prayer Circle ... All her thoughts were for others and her sympa- 
thy for those in trouble was boundless and very practically ex- 
pressed. Her wide interests, which included sketching and bird- 
watching, and her lively sense of fun made her a most stimulating 
companion. "22 

Miss Wood died in her 92nd year on 4 April 1965 in Grahamstown. 
In 1966 a memorial plaque was unveiled in the Library by Mrs M. 
Kruger on behalf of the S.A. Blind Workers Organization. It was in 
memory of the outstanding services rendered by Miss Wood to the 
blind of our land. The inscription reads as follows: 

"This plaque commemorates the devoted services of Miss Jose- 
phine Ethel Wood to the blind of South Africa." 

On 11 November 1966 the Josie Wood Wing of the Library was 
opened by Dr J.M. Hyslop, Vice- Chancellor of the University of 
Rhodes. It was erected in commemoration of the Founder and Honor- 
ary Secretary of the Library for 46 years, Josephine Ethel Wood. Mr 
Theo Pauw, chairman of the National Council and member of the Li- 
brary Council, was also present and thanked the speaker. 

The South African National Council for the Blind pays homage to 
the memory of Josephine Ethel Wood. 

367 



Mr C.B. Anderson 

After the death of Miss Josie Wood, Mr C.B. Anderson was elected 
President of the S.A. National Council for the Blind. The election took 
place at the 18th biennial meeting of the Council, which was held in 
Cape Town in October 1966. The leading role he played over many 
years in connection with the development of prevention services and 
his outstanding contribution in other spheres of welfare work for the 
blind made him a worthy successor to Miss Wood for this high 
honour. 

Mr Anderson belongs to the — alas too small — group of successful 
businessmen who are prepared to give of their time and knowledge to 
welfare organizations and to play an active and leading role. We often 
find that individuals in such positions are willing to become members 
of welfare organizations, but in name only. 

It is a different matter when they are prepared to commit themselves 
to promote the cause they have decided to serve. This Colin Anderson 
has been doing for the past thirty years, not only in respect of the pre- 
vention of blindness services but also with regard to a large organiza- 
tion, namely the Johannesburg Society to Help Civilian Blind, of 
which he was Chairman from 1948 to 1977. All these reponsibilities he 
took upon himself while in the midst of an active life in the commercial 
and mining fields. Before we give a review of his activities in connec- 
tion with the National Council and the blind, it will be interesting to 
know something about the man himself, his earlier life and his 
achievements. 

Colin Bruce Anderson, born in 1909, is descended from a family 
who were for two generations involved in mining. His grandfather 
was a mine manager and his father a managing director and deputy 
chairman of a large mining house. It was thus no wonder that the 
young Colin decided to study engineering. He obtained a degree in 
mechanical engineering at the University of Cambridge and then en- 
rolled for further study at the Magill University in Canada. After the 
completion of his studies he worked there for a while as an ordinary 
worker in a mine for base metals. 

In 1936 he joined Union Corporation Ltd., one of South Africa's 
largest mining companies, as a junior engineer, and worked his way 
up. In 1968 he became Managing Director of Union Corporation Ltd., 
and in 1972 chairman of the company. His involvement in mining and 
his outstanding ability must have been the reasons for his having been 



368 



appointed as Chairman of the Chamber of Mines at various times. 

He took an interest in rowing and target-shooting. He was chair- 
man of two rowing clubs on the Witwatersrand for a number of years 
and he was also at one time President of the Transvaal Schools Rowing 
Association. He often took rowing teams to compete in regattas in 
England and on the continent of Europe. 

Mr Anderson is thus a man of varying interests. One stands amazed 
that he could accomplish so much and still have time left to devote to 
our work. This is all the more remarkable when one reads the follow- 
ing in the business section of a Johannesburg newspaper: 

"Colin Anderson has developed the mining skills of Union Cor- 
poration so that it has become one of the most successful produc- 
ers of gold and platinum in die world. "2* 
In the chapter on the history of the Bureau for the Prevention of 
Blindness we stated that Mr Anderson was elected as a member of the 
Bureau in 1948 and became its chairman in 1950. Thereafter he has 
been elected chairman ever since. In this connection we wrote: 

"The fact that he has uninterruptedly acted as chairman up to the 
present has over the past 30 yeas brought stability and continuity 
to the activities of the Bureau. His influence and stature in society 
has enhanced the prestige of the Bureau as well as that of the 
Council." 

At the time of Mr Anderson's election as president, the Chairman of 
Council, Mr Theo Pauw, made mention of the high regard in which he 
is held both in South Africa and in the world. The following report 
comes from the minutes: 

"He (the Chairman) expressed the Council's grateful thanks to 
Mr Anderson for the splendid way in which he had developed a 
very important part of its work, namely the Bureau for the Pre- 
vention of Blindness, stating that had it not been for Mr Ander- 
son's inspiring leadership, the Bureau would not have reached 
the heights it had achieved." 
The history of the Bureau is also the history of the part he played in 
its development. In this connection it should also be mentioned that 
on many occasions he was called upon to lead deputations to the 
authorities in connection with awkward and difficult administrative 
and financial problems connected with the work of the Bureau. A case 
in point was the implications which arose following the establishment 
of the Homelands. 



369 



Further testimony to the manner in which Mr Anderon appHed him- 
self to work connected with the bhnd is his years of service to the 
Johannesburg Society to Help Civilian Blind. As chairman for more 
than thirty years he shaped its course until he retired in 1977. During 
this period extensive developments took place, the most important of 
these being the completion of the new building complex at Roseacre in 
1967. To commemorate his leading role in the project it was decided 
that his name be given to the hostel and that it be called Colin Ander- 
son House. In this connection it should also be mentioned that the Re- 
habilitation Centre of the National Council is situated on the same ter- 
rain and is administered by the Society in terms of an agreement 
between the two organizations. 

It is impossible in this short space to do justice to the great work 
done by Colin Anderson on behalf of the National Council and the 
blind of our country. The spirit in which he performed it and the value 
he himself attached to it are reflected in his reply to the Chairman of 
Council when it was announced that he had been unanimously elected 
as president. The minutes" report the following: 

"In reply Mr Anderson stated that his election as Life President of 
Council was the greatest honour he had yet received. He had 
been interested in blind welfare for many years, both with the 
Johannesburg Society and the Bureau, and had been connected 
with the Bureau for almost 20 years. He had found the work re- 
warding, and it had been extremely interesting to see the Bureau 
grow from nothing. He still had in his possession a telegram 
dated the 18th October 1952, sent to him by Dr E. Franks and Mr 
Wentworth, advising him that the first operation had been per- 
formed in the Mobile Unit, which had been a great milestone in 
the Council's affairs. Mr Anderson concluded by thanking the 
Chairman and the Council for the great honour bestowed upon 
him, and gave his assurance that he would do his best to be 
worthy of it." 

It is encouraging for those who have been connected with the work 
for many years to learn from a man of the stature of Colin Anderson 
that his election as president of the S.A. National Council for the Blind 
meant so much to him. It serves as an inspiration to all of us who are 
involved with the rendering of services to the blind. 

The R.W. Bowen Medal was awarded to him at a function held on 
27 April 1976 in Pretoria. This is the highest honour which the 



370 



National Council can bestow on anyone. It symbolises the gratefulness 
of the Council for years of unselfish service. We conclude a few para- 
graphs from the citation: 

"He has continued to serve and inspire our national endeavour 
towards the betterment of the quality of life for the visually 
handicapped of all sections of the community. 
"His personal influence and unquestionable powers of 
leadership have been widely acknowledged in industry and in 
civic and social spheres, resulting in substantial benefit to the 
causes with which he has been associated. 

"He has displayed these qualities in combination with a warm, 
human concern for the well-being of blind persons of every stand- 
ing as individuals in their own right." 

THE OFFICE OF VICE-PRESIDENT 

At the biennial meeting of the National Council held in Grahams- 
town on 24 and 25 September 1952, certain amendments were made to 
the constitution whereby provision was made for the election of an 
honorary president and two vice-presidents. At the same meeting 
Miss Josie Wood was elected as honorary president and Miss Marjorie 
Watson and Mr Hymy Matthews as honorary vice-presidents. 

Since the introduction of the honorary office the National Council 
has had five vice-presidents. In 1960 Dr A.W. Blaxall was elected as 
third vice-president. When he left South Africa in 1964 he was not re- 
elected. After Miss Watson's death in 1965 she was succeeded by Mrs K. 
D. Battle. Mrs Battle was a very active worker in the service of the 
blind, as the secretary for many years of the Pretoria Society for Ci- 
vilian Blind. She played an important role in the organization of the 
Rehabilitation Centre after its establishment. It was then still situated 
in Pretoria. She was also at one time a member of the Bureau for the 
Prevention of Blindness. After her death in 1972 Mr A. McKellar White 
was elected. Mention has been made in a previous chapter of his valua- 
ble services to the Cape Town office for many years, especially in con- 
nection with financial matters relating to fund-raising. 

Mr Hymy Matthews 

Mr Hymy Matthews has been connected with blindness and the S.A. 
National Council for the Blind for a very long time. He relates^ ^ how in 



371 



March 1936 Adv. Bowen, accompanied by his secretary, called at his 
home to enlist subscription members for the National Council. This 
was his first meeting with Adv. Bowen, and they had a long discussion 
about fimd-raising in general. Then suddenly the idea of a gholf com- 
petition entered his mind. He would start with his own club, Clovelly, 
near Cape Town, and he hoped that eventually clubs all over the 
country would become involved. This actually happened. An 
interesting sidelight connected with the matter was that when he was 
visiting Johannesburg a little while later he saw a beautiful trophy in a 
jeweller's shop. He at once knew that that was the trophy he was look- 
ing for and decided that the name should be the Trophy of Light. The 
following day he bought it and the manager kindly allowed him fifty 
percent discount after he had told him what lay behind the purchase. 

Over the years, as has been told elsewhere in this book, large sums 
of money have been collected in this way for the benefit of the blind 
and the National Council. At present about fifty golf clubs throughout 
the country arrange competitions annually, each for its own trophy, 
mostly donated by the clubs themselves. The Trophy of Light compe- 
titions have been extended to other categories of sport such as bowls, 
tennis, soccer and yachting. Even a homing pigeon club in the Western 
Province has its annual Trophy of Light Competition. 

As a result of his meeting with Adv. Bowen Mr Matthews joined the 
Board of Management of the Athlone School for the Blind in 1936. In 
1964 he was honoured by being elected honorary vice-president and 
today still holds that office. He was also invited by Adv. Bowen to be- 
come a member of the National Council, although he never rep- 
resented any affiliated society. In 1952 he was elected as vice-president 
of the National Council and still serves as such today. 

As regards other activities and achievements we quote the following 
from his curriculum vitae which was presented to the National Council 
in April 1978: 

"Founder Chairman of Helen Keller Hostel since 1956 and at 
present still in this position. 

Joined the Cape Town Civilian Blind Society in 1937, served as 
Vice-President for a number of years and at present Life Presi- 
dent and Chairman for the past four years. 
Served on the Committee of the Athlone School for the Blind for 
many years and honoured as Honorary Vice-President for the 
past 15 years. 



372 



Honoured by the League of Friends of the BHnd as Life Member 
for services rendered to the Coloured Community over a period 
of 40 years. 

Made a Life Member of the Swaziland Society for the Blind and 
Handicapped." 

Mr Matthews was a business man in Cape Town for many years and 
as such built up many contacts, whereby he was able to obtain funds 
for organizations for the blind. 

For services rendered to the blind in different spheres of activity, the 
National Council has decided to award the R. W. Bowen Medal to him 
on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee celebrations in November 1979. 

Miss M. T. Watson 

Marjorie Tennant Watson, herself a blind person, belonged to a 
group of Cape pioneer workers (all women) who started welfare work 
amongst the blind in the Cape Peninsula at about the time of the estab- 
lishment of the national Council in 1929. Some of the others were Lil 
Bowen, Lilian Butler- Smith, Vera Chamberlain, Lennox Rawbone and 
Ailie Gillies. It may be said that Marjorie Watson and Lil Bowen were 
the leading figures in this venture. They established a committee in 
1928 from which emanated the Cape Town Civilian Blind Society. In 
later years Miss Watson also initiated the establishment of the Helen 
Keller Hostel for elderly blind women in Cape Town. She laid the cor- 
nerstone of the building on 16 November 1957. A third project which 
can be ascribed to her initiative was the Lighthouse Club for the Blind, 
which she brought into being with the assistance of a few other 
interested persons. 

Each of the above organizations had its own special beginning. In 
her memoirs,^* which she published in book form, she writes: 

"One day in May 1928, I received a phone call from Lil Bowen 
asking if I would like to join her in starting a little society for the 
benefit of a number of blind persons whom she had discovered 
living in seclusion in the Peninsula." 

A meeting of interested persons under the guidance of Miss Watson 
and Mrs Bowen was held in September 1928. This was the beginning of 
the Cape Town Civilian Blind Society. 

In connection with the establishment of the Helen Keller Hostel, we 
quote the following from her memoirs: 



373 



"At one time I was beginning to despair of ever achieving this ob- 
jective, when out of the blue came an offer of Mr Hymy 
Matthew^s, vs^ho had so long interested himself in collecting funds 
through his trophy of light golf competition. Now he was pre- 
pared to form a fund-raising committee for the Helen Keller 
Hostel for Blind Women." 
During her whole life she devoted herself to serving the blind, es- 
pecially through these two organizations. 

She was an expert braillist and transcribed a number of books for 
the S.A. Library for the Blind in Grahamstown. She also did proof- 
reading for the Library. 

In 1949 she was elected Honorary Life President of the Cape Town 
Civilian Blind Society and later also Life President of the Lighthouse 
Club for the Blind. 

In Kindly Light, which was sold in aid of the Bureau for the Preven- 
tion of Blindness and the Lighthouse Club, she describes the years of 
her youth, her life in Cape Town at the beginning of the century, her 
gradual loss of sight, resulting eventually in total blindness, her activi- 
ties in connection with blind welfare work and the establishment of the 
different societies. Eric Rosenthal, the well-known historian and 
writer, expresses himself as follows in his introduction to the book: 
"Her simple straightforward style is all the more impressive, and 
South Africans will enjoy the glimpses Miss Watson gives of a 
vanished Victorian and Edwardian Cape Town, in which her 
family, associated with the famous old firm of Thomson, Watson 
and Co., for generations played a prominent part." 
Marjorie Mabel Tennant Watson was born in 1888 in Wynberg in 
the Cape Peninsula. She was a descendant of the small group of British 
settlers who established themselves in Cape Town. Her grandfather 
was a Member of the old Cape Parliament and was interested in astro- 
nomy. He was a member of the Royal Astronomical Society and at one 
time received an award for his discovery of a new star. Her father was a 
Government Land Surveyor. 

Marjorie Watson was born with a progressive eye defect with the re- 
sult that at the age of 27 she was totally blind. She paid frequent visits 
to eye specialists here and in England, but without success. In spite of 
her blindness she lived a very active social life in Cape Town and could 
be considered a completely rehabilitated blind person. As already 
stated she was actively engaged in welfare work for the blind. She was a 



374 



deeply religious person who was ever willing to help a deserving cause. 
She died on 22 June 1965 at the age of 77. 

DIRECTORS FROM 1961 

Mr S. K. Wentworth 

After the death of the general secretary,^^ Mr D.J. van Wyk, in 1961, 
Mr S. K. Wentworth was appointed to the post. Although he served the 
National Council as Director for more than eleven years in a very ef- 
ficient manner, he will probably be remembered rather as head of the 
Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness, a post he previously held for 
more than fifteen years. Here he was set the task of building up an or- 
ganization from the very beginning which was the only one of its kind, 
and for which no previous model existed. 

In chapter 1 1 the story of the Bureau has already been told. It is 
possible that his participation in the initial stages of the project has not 
been sufficiently stressed. To start the project his first task was to re- 
cruit professional and other staff. It was required of him to make the 
necessary contacts on all levels. After that he had to obtain financial 
aid, and for this he had to convince people in all spheres of the merits 
of his cause and the necessity of the scheme. When he actually started 
on it, he had to plan routes through veld and bush, study the elements 
and mobilise his resources to induce people under the most primitive 
conditions to come to the field clinics held under the trees in the open. 
He had to contend with physical hardships, lend a hand to push ve- 
hicles through swollen rivers (and in the process once contracted bil- 
harzia), travel along almost impassable roads, and then also conduct 
interviews with chiefs in their kraals to persuade them to co-operate. 
In this way he strove to break down prejudices and to carry out what 
may be called a process of civilization. Above all he had to keep his 
faith in his cause and to carry it over to the authorities and the profes- 
sions. This and much more was the task of one man: Stephen King 
Wentworth, in the initial stages of the scheme. 

Without fear of contradiction it may be said that the success of the 
Bureau was also his success. He laid the foundation of a project which 
still bears the fruit of his insight and determination. 

S. K. Wentworth was born in the Orange Free State and later took a 
post in the auditor's section of the Transvaal Provincial Administra- 



375 



tion. The experience he gained there stood him in good stead when he 
was faced with the financial affairs of the Council. At the outbreak of 
the Second World War he enlisted in the South African Air Force and 
attained the rank of lieutenant. He saw service in North Africa. He had 
the ability to establish good relationships easily. This is proved by the 
fact that he was appointed to assist with the rehabilitation of returned 
soldiers after the war. It was as a result of this that he met Dr Louis van 
Schalkwijk, who was chief of the demobilisation service, which led to 
his appointment as head of the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness. 
He assumed duty with the National Council on 16 January 1946. As its 
Director he distinguished himself both as a capable official and a 
champion of the cause of the blind. 

In 1964, with Dr W. Cohen, he represented the National Council at a 
conference of the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind 
(W.C.W.B.) in New York. By reason of his intimate knowledge of the 
prevention of blindness he was appointed to the Committee for the 
Prevention of Blindness of the W.C.W.B. 

A notable facet of his life was his interest in civic and municipal af- 
fairs. In this sphere he rendered service first as town councillor and 
later as mayor of Verwoerdburg. By reason of this he was appointed to 
act on a number of committees and in this way served his community. 

On- reaching the age of retirement he decided to leave the service of 
the Council on 30 June 1972. On account of his extensive knowledge 
and experience of the work of the Council, the Executive Committee 
decided to appoint him in a consultative capacity from 1 July. In this 
way he would be able to be of assistance to his successor. However, he 
died suddenly on 10 August 1972, less than six weeks after his retire- 
ment. 

Tokens of appreciation for his services to the National Council and 
to the blind of all population groups came from all quarters. We quote 
the following from a tribute paid to him by the S.A. Blind Workers Or- 
ganization:^^ 

"It can truly be said that he was a worthy sighted ambassador for 
the blind of his country. The S.A. Blind Workers Organization 
wishes to pay tribute to the memory of a great man, who dedi- 
cated his life to the cause of the blind." 
The R. W. Bowen Medal was awarded to him posthumously on 1 7 
April 1973. It was presented to Mrs Joy Wentworth at a function orga- 
nised by the National Council. 



376 



After Mr Wentworth's retirement, Mr A. Mardon succeeded him on 
1 July 1972. It was arranged that Mr Wentworth should remain in ser- 
vice in an advisory capacity so that the new incumbent of the post 
could benefit from his knowledge and experience. His sudden death 
prevented this. 

Mr Mardon occupied the post for just over three years and left the 
service of the Council on 31 October 1975. During his period of service 
he acquainted himself with the multifarious facets of the activities of 
the Council and by visiting affiliated societies was able to gain intimate 
knowledge of their affairs. During his leave in July 1974 he visited sev- 
eral organizations and persons in Rhodesia and made valuable con- 
tacts. In bidding farewell to him in the biennial report of 1974-1976, 
the Chairman of Council touched on his devotion to service and ended 
as follows: 

"I wish to place on record our thanks and appreciation for the 
devoted service he rendered during this period. He made many 
friends in all sections of the community which he came to know 
in the execution of his duties and he is assured of our best wishes 
for the future." 

Mr W. P. Rowland 

Mr W. P. Rowland assumed duty as director of the S.A. National 
Council for the Blind on 1 January 1976. He was the first blind person 
to occupy the post. 

In connection with his appointment the Chairman of Council wrote 
as follows in the 23rd biennial report: "The Executive Committee had 
no hesitation in appointing him in the post of Director from a very 
competitive panel of applicants and he soon established himself as an 
expert in his new role". Before this, from 1966 to 1974, he occupied 
the post of Public Relations Officer of the Council with head office in 
Cape Town. In this capacity he received a good grounding in all as- 
pects of Council's work and in the different systems of the rendering of 
services to the blind in this country. We have already dealt with the 
public relations aspect of the Council, and the role played by Mr Row- 
land, in a previous chapter. We may add that his eight years as Public 
Relations officer served as a period of preparation for the important 
task which awaited him as Director. It can undoubtedly be asserted 
that his outstanding intellect, as shown by his brilliant school and aca- 



377 



demic achievements, must also be seen as a contributing factor to a 
successful career. 

William Peter Rowland was born at Sea Point, Cape Town, in 1940. 
He was blinded in a shooting accident at the age of four. He attended 
the Worcester School for the Blind and in 1958 passed the National 
Senior Certificate with the highest marks nation-wide in both English 
and Afrikaans. In 1959 he left for England to study physiotherapy at 
the Royal National Institute for the Blind. After his return he worked 
from 1962 to 1966 in a children's hospital as a physiotherapist and was 
also in private practice. As was previously mentioned, he occupied the 
post of Public Relations OfTicer from 1966 until his appointment as 
Director of the National Council from the beginning of 1976. 

In the meantime he enrolled as a student at the University of South 
Africa and obtained the degrees B.A. (with distinction), B.A. Hons, 
(with distinction) and M.A. (with distinction) on a dissertation entided 
"Space and Blindness - A Philosophical Study". An exceptional 
achievement should be mentioned here namely an award from a pub- 
lishing house for the best student of Afrikaans for the year 1968 at the 
University of South Africa. This is all the more noteworthy seeing that 
his home language was English. 

As Director of the National Council his first aim was to become 
thoroughly acquainted with all aspects of welfare work for the blind in 
the Republic, South West Africa and the neighbouring states. This in- 
cluded visits to affiliated societies, where he was able to assist with 
problems which had arisen. On certain occasions he was requested to 
appear as a speaker. He reported to the Executive Committee on all 
these matters. 

With regard to the work of the Council, he especially concerned 
himself with the activities of the special committees. He considered the 
rehabilitation of the newly blinded an important priority, and there- 
fore was deeply interested in the Rehabilitation Centre. With regard to 
employment he showed special interest in the training of computer 
programmers. In order to develop this it was necessary to conduct se- 
veral interviews with firms and other organizations. His negotiations in 
connection with the financing of the various ophthalmological tours of 
the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness, as well as the obtaining of 
land for the new headquarters of Council, should also be mentioned. 
The study he made of recent legislation in connection with welfare 
work and his action thereafter showed rare insight. The abovemen- 



378 



tioned matters, and many more, generally necessitated interviews with 
state departments, local authorities, heads of commercial firms, chair- 
men of various organizations and others. In this way he made his ser- 
vices available to the Council and the blind. His expert knowledge of 
every branch of the Council's work, as well as his persuasive ability, 
generally brought the necessary results. To this must be added his as- 
sistance to individuals, especially newly blinded persons in whose 
special problems he took a deep interest. 

On account of his wide contacts in connection with welfare work, he 
serves on fairly divergent bodies. He is a member of the S.A. Federal 
Council for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled, Trustee of the Eyebank 
Foundation, member of the Northern Transvaal Regional Welfare 
Board, member of the Executive Committee of the National Associ- 
ation of Blind Bowlers and member of the Public Relations Institute of 
South Africa. He is an initiator of the Touch Gallery in Cape Town and 
adviser to the S.A. National Gallery on art for the blind. He is also the 
initiator of In Touch (a radio programme for blind listeners). 

In 1972 he undertook an extended oversea study tour to America, 
Canada and Europe, during which he also attended the conference of 
the International Council for the Education of the Visually Handi- 
capped (I.C.E.V.H.) in Madrid. The report which he presented after 
his return contains valuable information on new developments in con- 
nection with practically every facet of services to the blind. In 1978 he 
represented the National Council at a conference of the International 
Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (I.A.P.B.) held in Oxford, Eng- 
land. After the conference he undertook a study tour of six countries, 
which included Iran and Kenya. 

A contribution of a special nature which he made lately, and with 
which he should continue, is the delivering of addresses on different 
occasions on aspects of blindness. The following three subjects may be 
mentioned : 

The Attitude of the Public towards Blindness 
The Blind as unknown to us 
Some Effects of Blindness 

His academic study, which included research into spatial problems 
for the blind, his knowledge of the blind person and his own experi- 
ence of being blind place him in a unique position to write on blind- 
ness. We should like to see him as one of the all too few writers on 
blindness who are themselves blind. It is a fact that by far the majority 



379 



of writers of international repute today who write on blindness are 
sighted. 

William Rowland is a versatile person. He is a creditable chess 
player, has won a gold medal for bowls, has taken part in water skiing 
and takes an interest in sport for the blind. He is a published poet with 
poems in literary magazines, in two major Afrikaans anthologies and a 
personal volume entitled: Die huis waar ek woon (The house where I live). 
This has had a good reception from literary critics. He also writes chil- 
dren's stories and is the composer of songs, some of which have been 
performed on the radio. He has vsnritten articles on art published in 
South Africa, England, France and the U.S.A. As a result of his 
achievements he was one of the recipients of the "Four Outstanding 
Young South Africans (FOYSA) Award" of Jaycees in 1975. 

To conclude one may say that his period as Director can be des- 
cribed as one of renewal. He is continually seeking new aids (electronic 
and others) for the blind, firstly to make living more pleasant, secondly 
for the more effective execution of their work and thirdly for ex- 
ploiting new avenues of employment such as programming. There is 
also a marked renewal in thought perceivable. He especially stresses 
the use of the full potential of the blind person, and as an outcome of 
this, his integration in the community in different spheres but especially 
in the administrative and professional fields. William Rowland is a new 
voice in work for the blind. 

THE OFFICE OF HONORARY TREASURER 

When the S.A. National Council for the Blind was established in 
1929 the organising secretary at the time, Mr J. J. Prescott-Smith, also 
performed the role of treasurer. The first honorary treasurer was 
elected at the fourth biennial meeting of the Council, held in 1937. He 
was Mr H. A. Tothill, a representative of the Johannesburg Society to 
Help Civilian Blind and a Member of Parliament for a Witwatersrand 
constituency. The head-office of the Council was still in Cape Town. 
He served as honorary treasurer until the biennial meeting of 1946, 
when Mr D. N. Murray was elected to succeed him. Mr Murray was 
also a representative of the Johannesburg Society, and head of the 
social services of the Johannesburg Municipality. After fourteen years 
of service to the Council he was replaced by Mr F. A. Peters, who was 
unanimously elected honorary treasurer at the fifteenth biennial meet- 
ing of the Council, held on 19-21 October 1960. Mr Peters has since 



380 



been re-elected at every meeting. In actual fact the Council has had 
only three honorary treasurers in the fifty years of its existence. 

Mr F. A. Peters 

Mr F. A. Peters, as a result of his acquaintance with Mr S. K. Went- 
worth, generously consented to accept election as honorary treasurer 
of the National Council. As this happened in 1960, nineteen years ago, 
he is at present the office bearer with the longest uninterrupted service. 
At the time Mr Wentworth was on the point of being pi omoted to the 
post of general secretary of the Council, and had enough insight to 
realise that the Council needed an expert on financial matters. It has 
previously been mentioned that extensive developments were taking 
place at that time and it was imperative that a person be appointed 
who was able to formulate a sound financial policy for the Council. 
The latter was fortunate to obtain such a person in Fred Peters. On 
presenting his report at the very first meeting of the Executive Com- 
mittee after his election he was commended for his clear exposition of 
the financial affairs of the Council. This happened each time when he 
delivered his report. 

It is easily understandable that in keeping a watchful eye on the in- 
come and expenditure, it would be expected of him to become 
thoroughly acquainted with the activities of the Council, in order to 
determine whether the expense to be incurred on a particular project 
was justified. It was therefore not only a question of bookkeeping. 
When he was later appointed chairman of the Finance and General 
Purposes Committee his good judgement was recognised, for on many 
occasions matters were referred to him for determining to what extent 
funds should be made available. Although he kept the reins fairly tight 
he never allowed essential developments to be curtailed by holding 
back funds. Council could always rely on his good judgement. In this 
respect he is a very valuable honorary officer of Council. It should be 
added that the slightest semblance of an irregularity never evaded him 
and he acted immediately in such cases. 

He is also chairman of the Dagbestuur (emergency committee), 
which is often required to make quick decisions. Here too members of 
the Executive Committee can always rely on his well-balanced judge- 
ment. 

An important part of his task, as a member of the sub -committee 
dealing with staff matters, is the proper evaluation of the various posts 



381 



on the establishment and the matching of the salaries of the incum- 
bents accordingly. This he performs with fairness and insight. 

The fact that he is so intensely concerned about the financial affairs 
of the Council often results in frequent visits to the office. This duty he 
performed while holding a very responsible post on the staff of the 
Dairy Board until his retirement. In this connection it should also be 
recorded that he rendered invaluable service to the Council in direct- 
ing the office during the period when the post of Director was vacant, 
from November to December 1975, and some time thereafter. 

Mr Peters must be commended for the devoted and expert service he 
has rendered to the National Council, and therefore to the blind of our 
country, for the past nineteen years. The hope is expressed that this 
will continue for a, long time to come. 



1. According to his Curriculum Vitae, dated 17 November 1960, the following orders of merit 
were awarded to him: "Holder of the Royal Red Cross of Yugoslavia, Member of the Serbian 
Order of St. Sava, Brother of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem." 

2 Ga-Rankuwa is now situated in the Republic of Bophuthatswana. 

s Mocke, H. A. : The History of the Education of Bantu Deaf in South Africa (Translated). Thesis for ob- 
taming the degree Ph.D. of the University of Pretoria, 1971. The data on the establishment of 
the school were obtained from an article which had appeared in a newspaper, The Star, on 30 
March 1960. f ^ 

* All these data with regard to his academic career and his earlier teaching experience were ob- 
tained from the 38th Annual Report (1964-65) of the Athlone School for the Blind, page 21. 

5 Minutes £)f the eleventh biennial meeting of the National Council, held 24 and 25 September 
1952, page 14. ^ 

6 October 1968. 

7 Imfama, Volume 8, no. 11. 

8 Biennial Report 1964-1966, page 14. 

9 The rest of the delegation included names which are of historical importance: Ds C. B. Brink, 
who was at one time the Moderator of the Synod of the N.G. Church in the Transvaal, Dr P. 
Boshoff, the first ophthalmologist to attend a biennial meeting of the Council, and the Rev. and 
Mrs A. W Blaxall, well-known pioneers in the field of services to the blind. 

10 An awl-like instrument used for writing braille. 

1 1 This is an extrernely slow and time-consuming process. Today braille is usually written by 
means of a machine at a speed which compares favourably with that of a typewriter. 

12 Committee appointed to deal with urgent matters. 

13 Seventeenth biennial report of the National Council (1962-1964). 

14 "Children of Darkness". 

15 The above information was supplied by Mr Pauw in a letter to the writer. It contains many 
more interesting facts concerning the life of the missionaries and their children in Central Af- 
rica at that time. 

16 Annual report of the Worcester School for the Blind - 1978. 

17 Journal of the International Council for the Education of the Visually Handicapped. 

18 A^^ix* Developments in the Education of the Blind: An address delivered at a symposium on Aid to 
children with Learning Disabilities held in Pretoria in 1978. 

19 In the 12th biennial report of the Council (1952-1954) Dr Louis van Schalkwijk, Chairman at 
the time, called Miss Josie Wood the "primum movens" of the founding of the National Coun- 
cil. 

20 This information about Miss Wood's grandfather was obtained from a S.A.B.C. broadcast on 
Miss Wood by Mrs Rivett-Carnac on 29 October 1966. The manuscript is in the possession of 
Miss Mary Spurling of the S.A. Library for the Blind. 



382 



2' In a S.A.B.C. broadcast (about 1959) Richard Buncher said that Miss Wood's grandfather also 
traded in wool and hides. The Library is housed in the same building (since renovated and con- 
siderably altered) which served as his warehouse. The manuscript of the broadcast is in the pos- 
session of Miss Mary Spurling of Grahamstown. 

Newsletter, Grahamstown Diocese, June 1965: Josephine Ethel Wood, by M. Spurling. 

" These facts about the life history of Mr Anderson havee been taken from an article in the Sun- 
day Times of 4 November 1973. Under the heading "How they made it to the top" we find 
sketches of leading businessmen who reached the top of their vocation. Colin Anderson was 
one of them. 

2* Sunday Times: 4 November 1973. 

" Meeting of Council held 26-28 October 1966. 

26 Minutes of eleventh biennial meeting of Council, 24-25 September 1952, page 1 1, paragraph 9. 

The word "honorary" was later omitted. 
2' The information which is contained in this section was supplied by Mr Matthews at an interview 

with the writer on 23 October 1978. 
2* Kindly Light by Marjorie Tennant Watson, 1958, page 36. 
2' In 1964 the name was changed to Director. 

30 Minutes of biennial meeting of the National council, held 25-27 October 1972, page 26. 



383 



CHAPTER 14 



AFFILIATED AND ASSOCIATED 
BODIES 



Membership of the S.A. National Council for the Bhnd consists of 

(i) affiHated bodies 

(ii) associated bodies 

(iii) special members. 

The constitution also makes provision for representation of certain 
State Departments on the Council, namely those which are concerned 
with its activities. 

In connection with affiliation, the constitution stipulates that "any 
properly constituted body existing solely for the welfare of blind 
people may be granted affiliation to the Council". Any organization 
which among other functions, concerns itself with the welfare of blind 
people may be granted associate membership of the Council.' The 
number of representatives which each affiliated body may send to 
Council meetings is determined by the annual income of such an orga- 
nization. The number varies from two to five. The associated bodies 
have one representative each. The special members, of whom there are 
seven, are elected "on the ground of their special knowledge of, or 
interest in blindness and blind people".^ 

As the provision of services to the blind expanded the number of af- 
filiated and associated members increased. At the foundation meeting 
of the Council in 1929, representatives of seven organizations which 
would today be defined as affiliated bodies, and nine representatives of 
associated bodies, were present. Today 35 organizations are affiliated 
to the Council and 35 have associate membership. The total number is 
70. A fully attended meeting will therefore consist of more than 150 
persons. At the biennial meeting of the Council held in October 1976, 
91 representatives attended. 

The affiliated societies from the backbone of services to the visually 



384 



handicapped on local, provincial, and in certain instances, on national 
level. Attempting to do justice to the important work performed by 
each one on its own terrain, is a well-nigh impossible task. When stu- 
dying the records of the various organizations at head-office and at so- 
cieties, or merely reading the records which appear in the biennial re- 
ports of the Council, one is amazed at the comprehensiveness of the 
work which has been accomplished already, and is still being per- 
formed. It was indeed not the intention that a detailed account of the 
activities of each affiliated organization should be given in this work. 
The purpose of the book is to record the history of the National Coun- 
cil itself. Nevertheless it was decided that it would be appropriate to in- 
clude a brief account of each of the organizations which has a reaso- 
nably large programme of services, and which has been in the field for 
a long time. The history of the various affiliated bodies is very absorb- 
ing and deserves further attention, but will demand a much more com- 
prehensive study to do justice to it. 

Firsdy a list of organizations which are affiliated to the Council will 
be given. It will be followed by the names of the bodies which have ac- 
quired associate membership. In connection with the affiliated bodies, 
it must be mentioned that several of those which were formed in the 
initial years of the Council's existence have since been dissolved. They 
were societies for the blind which had been established in smaller 
centres, or in areas which are situated too near existing societies. They 
are the following: Brakpan, Graaff-Reinet, Oudtshoorn, Bellville- 
Durbanville and Stellenbosch. At times efforts were made to revive 
some of them, but without success. Studying the records, one comes to 
the conclusion that the main reason for their dissolution was the fact 
that there were too few blind persons who needed services in the immi- 
diate vicinity. A society which did very good work until quite recendy, 
was that at Stellenbosch. 

The names of the bodies which are affiliated to the National Coun- 
cil, appear below in alphabetical order: 

Athlone School for the Blind, Bellville South 

Beacon Club for the Blind, Cape Town 

Bosele School for the Blind, Mpudulle, Tvl 

Cape Town Civilian Blind Society, Cape Town 

Civilian Blind Society of the O.F.S., Bloemfontein 

East London Society for the Civilian Blind, East London 

Everest Club for the Visually Handicapped, Port Elizabeth 



385 



Goldfields (O.F.S.) Society for the Blind, Welkom 

Grahamstown Civilian Blind Society, Grahamstown 

Kimberley and Northern Cape Civilian Blind Society, Kimberley 

King William's Tov^n Society for Civilian Blind, King William's 

Town 

League of Friends of the Blind, Athlone, Cape Town 
Lighthouse Club for the Blind, Cape Town 
Mobility Association of South Africa, Benmore, Johannesburg 
Natal Bantu Blind Society, Durban 

Natal European and Coloured Civilian Blind Association, Durban 

Natal Indian Blind and Deaf Society, Durban 

New Horizon School for the Blind, Pietermaritzburg 

Port Elizabeth Society for the Blind, Port Elizabeth 

Pretoria Society for the Blind, Pretoria 

Prinshof School for the Partially Sighted and Preparatory School for 
the Blind, Pretoria 

Services for the Blind and Visually Handicapped, Johannesburg 
School for the Blind, Worcester 
Siloe School for the Blind, Pietersburg 
Society to Help Civilian Blind, Johannesburg 
South African Blind Workers Organization, Johannesburg 
South African Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind, Benmore, Jo- 
hannesburg 

South African Library for the Blind, Grahamstown 
Tape Aids for the Blind, Durban 

Transvaal Association for Blind Black Adults, Orlando, Johannes- 
burg 

Transvaal Bantu Blind Society, Ga-Rankuwa, Bophuthatswana 
Transvaal Indian Blind Association, Johannesburg 
Transvaal Parents Association of the School for the Blind, Worces- 
ter, Pretoria 

Vuleka School for Blind and Deaf Zulu Children, Nkandla, KwaZulu 

Workshop and Homes for the Blind, Worcester. 

As a result of the diversity of objectives and activities of the organiza- 
tions, they can be classified in different ways. In the first place there are 
some which control workshops, others which concentrate exclusively 
on welfare services, and still others which, in the midst of their activi- 
ties, also devote considerable attention to the prevention of blindness. 
For our purpose, namely to review the events surrounding the estab- 



386 



lishment and growth of the organizations, they can be divided into 
three groups. The first group consist of bodies which operate through- 
out the country, and therefore serve the bHnd of the whole RepubHc. 
The second group includes the educational institutions which concen- 
trate on the education of the child. The third group makes up the rest, 
namely those organizations which provide services to the adult blind, 
chiefly on a provincial and regional level. 

The organizations which belong to the first group and operate on a 
national level, are the following: 

The S.A. Library for the Blind 

The S.A. Blind Workers Organization ^ 

The League of Friends of the Blind 

The S.A. Guide-Dogs Association 

Tape Aids for the Blind. 

The South African Library for the Blind 

Because the S.A. Library for the Blind came into existence during 
the period prior to the establishment of the National Council, atten- 
tion has already been focused on its initial years in a previous chapter.^ 
Additional reference to the Library was also made in a review of the 
life and work of Missjosie Wood*, who was its founder in 1919. In the 
chapter mention was made of the important part played by the Library 
in the lives of many blind people. It behoves us therefore to continue 
the story of the Library,^ and to indicate to what extent, after essential 
developments had taken place, it has become an indispensable part of 
the lives of blind readers and students. 

Reading Miss Wood's reports on the Library which appeared in the 
biennial reports of the Council, one becomes aware of a sustained 
growth from the time when her first report was published in 1932. 

In those years there were still blind people who could not read 
braille. Consequently the Library introduced a correspondence course 
in braille to assist them. To give an idea of what the library was able to 
achieve as early as 1932, we quote the following from the report of that 
year: 

"We have bought books of all sorts, including those on religion, 
history, biography, poetry, massage, science, a good deal of fic- 
tion and some juvenile literature. By special request, we have Es- 
peranto in which several readers are interested. We have added a 
great deal of music and music literature, most of it chosen by our 



387 



organists and teachers. Works for examinations and concert per- 
formance are included." 
In the report of 1934 to the National Council it was stated that "the 
number of volumes^ on the shelves at the end of 1934 was 5 292 and 
nearly all our available space is filled up." The number of readers was 
approximately 200. This stock of books increased considerably over 
the years, with the result that the Director of the Library could state the 
following in the report which he submitted to the National Council in 
1979: 

"The present stock of braille books exceeds 7 600 tides in over 
28 000 volumes. Of the latter the voluntary braille transcribers have 
contributed more than 630 volumes during the three years under re- 
view ... In the three year period an average of well over 500 readers 
per annum were served." 

The largest number of books in stock are in English, in contrast with 
those in Afrikaans, the reason being that English books are more easily 
obtainable from overseas. The books in Afrikaans have to be produced 
locally, and are very expensive in comparison with those in English, 
since a very small number of copies are needed. As Braille Services' ex- 
pands we are confident that this situation will improve. According to 
statistics supplied by the Library in 1976, the position of stocks was as 
follows : 

English 4 606 tides (books) 

Afrikaans 942 tides 

Black languages 179 tides 

Total 5 727 ddes 

In 1936 a major development took place with regard to the provi- 
sion of reading-matter for the blind by the Library. In that year the so- 
called talking books were imported from England. Books were sound- 
recorded on records which were then played back. This medium 
brought about a radical change in the reading pattern of, and the pro- 
vision of informadon to the blind. The new method could produce 
reading- matter more quickly and more cheaply than the previous me- 
thods. When the record was replaced by the magnetic tape, the advan- 
tages of this system proved to be even greater. Some people believed 
that books on tape would supersede those in braille, and make them 
superfluous. This, however, was not the case, and at the present time it 
is universally accepted that the sound medium is supplementary to the 
touch medium, namely braille. There are numerous blind readers 



388 



today who prefer braille to tape for diverse reasons. In connection with 
the tape department at the Library the Director reports as follows 
(1979): 

"The collection of books on tape has grown to nearly 3 000 titles 
and over 18 000 cassettes, from four to eight copies being held of 
each title to satisfy the circulation demand. Over the past three 
years an average of 1 100 readers per annum were supplied with a 
yearly average of over 5 300 cassette books. The circulation staff 
have performed admirably to cope with the pressure of daily de- 
mand on the principle of "in today, out today". In addition to 
the normal stock, there are 220 special tides purchased to help 
students." 

With regard to another reading medium, namely Moon* which is 
specially suitable for elderly people, the Director states in the same re- 
port that the Library has 4 300 volumes in stock, which represent 1 200 
ddes. The Library offers lessons by means of correspondence for the 
study of this reading medium. 

After the death of Miss Josie Wood in 1965 Miss E. M. Spurling was 
appointed in her place as "honorary secretary and librarian".^ Mary 
Spurling, an Oxford M.A. in Economics and French, was a member of 
the Library staff since 1950. She was Miss Wood's right hand for many 
years. She had also studied social work in England and on her return 
to South Africa in 1938, she joined the staff of the Child Welfare So- 
ciety as a social worker. It may be of interest to know that she was 
elected a member of the Library Board in 1945, and five years later was 
appointed on the staff. 

In 1968 the Library became a state subsidised insdtudon and since 
then receives financial assistance in accordance with an established for- 
mula. A further change took place when a post of director was created 
as from 1 April 1968. This person would be at the head of the Library. 
Miss Spurling did not wish to be promoted to this posidon, and Mr D. 
E. Schauder was appointed Director from 1 March 1969. Miss Spurling 
was appointed head librarian. 

During Mr Schauder's term of office the question was raised as to 
the advisability of decentralising the library services by establishing de- 
pots in large centres. It was decided, however, that this arrangement 
would be unsadsfactory, since the blind reader, wherever he might find 
himself, would find it more convenient to receive his books through 
the post. 



389 



Mr Schaunder undertook an overseas study tour during the first half 
of 1971. In 1972 he received an M.A. degree from the University of 
Sheffield, England, with a dissertation on: 'Libraries for the Blind: A 
comparative study of policies and practices". 

Mr Schaunder resigned as Director in 1973, and Mr P.J. A. de Vil- 
liers wa.s appointed in his place. He assumed office in 1974. 

In September 1977 Mr De Villiers attended the congress of the 
I.F.L.A. (International Federation of Library Associations and Institu- 
tions) in Brussels. Special meetings for librarians of libraries for the 
blind were arranged within the framework of the congress. Addresses 
were delivered on matters concerning library services to the blind. A 
working group was formecf to investigate certain aspects of the matter. 
In this connection the Director reports as follows :*• 

"This working group has now been officially recognised by the 
I.F.L.A. executive, and the groundwork is being done for the 
eventual construction of a system which will tremendously benefit 
blind people, expecially students, by making international ex- 
change of materials among Libraries for the Blind an easy pro- 
cess." 

With regard to international contacts made by the library, it can be 
mentioned that Mr De Villiers was appointed to a sub-committee for 
"Library Services to the Blind", which was established by the Cultural 
Affairs Committee of the World Council for the Blind. 

Although Miss Spurling had informed the writer that she had retired 
in 1976, we find her name entered as head librarian in the annual re- 
port of the Library for the financial year 1977-1978. It therefore ap- 
pears that she is reluctant to detach herself from the Library. 

We conclude with two important quotations from the most recent 
available report of the Library (1 April 1977 to 31 March 1978). In his 
introduction the Director makes the following important statement: 
"It is today regarded as axiomatic that visually handicapped citi- 
zens are as much entitled to library services as any other section of 
the community." 
In the same vein, he continues in a later paragraph as follows: 
"The Department of National Education provides the South Afri- 
can Library for the Blind with a grant to cover basic administra- 
tive expenses but the Library relies heavily on the generous con- 
tributions of individual friends, on legacies, on donations from 
local authorities and organizations, and on the efforts of volun- 



390 



tary service organizations, to maintain an adequate rate of expan- 
sion of the book stock and other services." 
The financial position of the Library has not been taken into ac- 
count in this review. From the above, however, it is clear that, in com- 
parison with library services for the sighted, the Library still has to de- 
pend heavily on the benevolence of the private sector in order to 
maintain its services. The Department of National Education is well 
aware of the problems with which the Library has to contend and also 
recognises its valuable work. For this reason an advisory committee 
has been appointed to advise the Department on these matters. 

The South African Blind Workers Organization 

The South African Blind Workers Organization was established in 
Johannesburg on 26 October 1946. It resulted from a strong move- 
ment which originated amongst the workers of the Johannesburg So- 
ciety to Help Civilian Blind, to unite their resources in order to obtain 
a better dispensation for the blind in general, especially with regard to 
employment in open labour. In an article which appeared in the Jubi- 
lee memorial issue of the S.A. Blind Workers Organization, published 
at the time of its twenty-fifth anniversary in 1971, Mr A. J. C. 
Schwartz^ ^ states their case as follows: 

"Even matriculamts had no other alternative than to become 
candidates for workshops. Therefore some of us eventually came 
into open resistance against the disregard and neglect of blind 
potential which had been deliberately, though purposelessly built 
up." (Translated) 
Since September 1945 efforts were being made to establish an orga- 
nization of blind persons. After a circular had been sent out and cer- 
tain preparations made, a meeting was called for 12 October 1946. 
However, the discussion on the draft constitution which had already 
been drawn up, could not be completed and the meeting was ad- 
journed until 26 October 1946. At this meeting the South African 
Blind Workers Organization (S.A.B.W.O.) was finally established. It 
was also decided that branches would be established in different parts 
of the country. In this respect it should be mentioned that Dr Walter 
Cohen became the first chairman of the first branch, namely Johannes- 
burg. 

In order to exercise control over the national organization, provi- 
sion was made in the constitution for a Head Committee. It would 



391 



Mr A. Zeelie of Braille Services (left) and Dr W. Cohen, chairman of the Braille Sub-Committee of 
the Committee for Cultural Affairs of the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind, busy on 
problems in connection with braille for the Black languages. 




Braille Services - Department of braille production for Black languages. 



392 



consist of representatives of each branch together with the office bear- 
ers. With regard to the first meeting of the Head Committee, Mr E.J.J. 
Kruger writes as follows in the Jubilee edition:'^ 

"The first Head Committee meeting took place during October 
1947 with A. J. C. Schwartz as President. He was succeeded by J. 
Fuchs of Cape Town and later by the present President,''* D. C. 
Malan. The first honorary general secretary was J. C. Mostert, 
and he was later succeeded by the late Miss B. Schutte and still 
later by the present honorary general secretary, E. J. J. Kruger." 
(Translated) 

Since that time there have been further developments with regard to 
office bearers. Mr R. L. Park was elected in 1972 in the place of Mr D. 
C. Malan. After one term Mr Park was succeeded by Miss C. Aucamp 
in 1976. She is the present President of the Organization. Mr E. J. J. 
Kruger is still the Honorary General Secretary. 

Although the basic objective of the Organization after 33 years is still 
placement in open labour, quite a number of other projects have been 
launched for the benefit of blind people in general. The most impor- 
tant of these was the establishment of Braille Services. There was a 
pressing need at that time for more Afrikaans reading matter in the 
S.A. Library for the Blind. It was also necessary to make provision for 
literature for adult blind individuals, including students. The braille 
printing press of the Worcester School for the Blind concentrated 
chiefly on educational matter. Furthermore, provision had to be made 
for the printing of school text books in the braille systems of the chief 
Black languages, owing to the establishment of schools for blind Black 
children in the different regions. The person who took the initiative in 
this matter was Mr E.J.J. Kruger who, besides being Honorary Secre- 
tary of the Organization, also became the Honorary Director of Braille 
Services. 

Originally he and his wife, Mrs Monica Kruger, had started a braille 
transcription service on a small scale, but the demands which were 
made on them as a result of the escalation of the work became too 
great. The time had arrived when paid staff with the necessary profes- 
sional knowledge and technical skills would have to be appointed in 
order to produce braille reading matter of the required standard. With 
regard to the growth of Braille Services, we quote the following from 
the latest annual report (1978-1979) of the Honorary Director: 

"From just a few hundred braille pages in the first year, the ser- 



393 



vice has grown to nearly three quarter milHon.'^ From approxi- 
mately RlOO in the first year, the estimates have risen to 
R131 950 for 1978-1979." 
Besides the work which Braille Services does for the S.A. Library for 
the Blind and other bodies, it also provides the following services: 
Printing of Imfama, the organ of the National Council, in braille. 
Printing of two monthly magazines in Black braille, namely 
Ilanga Lethu in Zulu-Xhosa and Sedibeng in Sotho. 

The publication of Braillorama, a monthly bilingual magazine in 
braille with SABWO News as a supplement. 

Another project which the S.A. Blind Workers Organization had 
started was the trades bureau. Initially arrangements were made with 
firms to obtain discount for blind persons with a view to alleviating the 
high cost of living. At the present time the system has been changed, 
and loans are granted to selected members of the organization. 

Since placement in employment is considered the first priority it is 
understandable that the office of honorary placement officer would be 
established. This person is required to submit a report on his activities 
to the Head Committee. 

In order to meet all its obligations, which include the granting of 
bursaries to deserving blind and partially sighted pupils and students, 
head office, with the aid of the branches, must apply itself assiduously 
to fund-raising. 

Each branch does valuable work at all levels in its own area. An 
example is the excellent services performed by the Eastern Cape 
branch in the field of social work, by means of its own social worker. 

Further, with regard to financial matters, it should be mentioned 
that the organization, with the assistance of its branches, has built up a 
fund over the years with the object of acquiring its own building to ac- 
commodate both head office and Braille Services. This ideal was at- 
tained when the Minister of National Education, the Honourable W. 
A. Cruywagen, opened the S.A.B.W.O.'s own building which had been 
paid for in full, in Mayfair, Johannesburg, on 12 January 1979. 

On studying the bulky agenda of the most recent Head Committee 
meeting, and especially the reports of the eight branches, one is duly 
impressed by the comprehensiveness of the work, and the thorough- 
ness with which it is being performed. One can agree with Mr Theo 
Pauw, Chairman of the S.A. National Council for the Blind, when on 



394 



the occasion of the 23rd session of the Head Committee at Worcester, 
he declared: 

"The estabhshment of the S.A. Bhnd Workers Organization was 
one of the most important events in the history of welfare work 
for the blind. The slanted conception of the blind person has 
been removed and an entire new imgage of dignity and usefulness 
has arisen in its place. Of much greater significance is the fact that 
the blind individual himself has discovered that it is much better 
to serve than to be served." 
To conclude, we wish to quote two short paragraphs from an ad- 
dress which Miss C. E. Aucamp, as President of the S.A.B.W.O., deli- 
vered at the recent Head Committee meeting held in Pretoria in Oc- 
tober 1978. Here is shown her exceptionally clear and balanced view of 
various aspects of services to the blind. Before we do this, however, let 
us first dwell briefly on the life and work of this talented blind person. 

After a successful school and university career (B.A. at the University 
of South Africa, and M.A. and the Higher Teachers' Diploma at the 
\jniversity of Stellenbosch) she was appointed as a teacher in the secon- 
dary section of the Worcester School for the Blind. Besides her ordi- 
nary teaching work she became proficient as a braille expert, and pub- 
Hshed a textbook with the title "Ses Punte" (Six Dots) which is 
especially intended for adults who wish to learn braille. In 1964, in 
collaboration with Mr J. van Eeden, head of the Worcester School 
Braille Printing Press, she revised the manual for Afrikaans braille 
which had been compiled between the years 1932 and 1938. Her inte- 
rest in the education of the blind induced her to interrupt her career 
for a year, in order to follow a training course for teachers of the blind 
at the well-known Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, U.S.A. Ser- 
vice to her fellow blind however, extended further than education, and 
she felt drawn towards the S.A.B.W.O., where she could put her expe- 
rience and expertise to good effect. She succeeded to such a degree that 
she was eventually elected to the highest office, namely that of Presi- 
dent of the organization. In the abovementioned presidential address, 
reference is also made to that group of blind persons who are obliged 
to make a living in sheltered employment. At the same time Miss Au- 
camp refers to the struggle which is still being waged to make the blind 
independent. She says: 

"In accordance with the motives which actuated the establish- 
ment and existence of our Organization we are under an obliga- 



395 



tion to exert ourselves on behalf of the blind who are able to 
make an independent living. In the heat of the struggle (a struggle 
which could so easily have been avoided if people had a greater 
understanding of each other's needs) in the heat of the struggle, I 
say, we have lost touch with the people who have indeed found 
refuge in sheltered workshops for the blind. . . . But if we are a 
workers' organization we are also an organization for promoting 
the interests of these people when they need us. 
In another part of her address she refers to the vast technological 
development which is now taking place and from which the blind are 
also reaping benefits in the shape of various electronic devices. How- 
ever many are deprived of these aids on account of their being too 
costly, and beyond the means of the persons who need them. Sufficient 
assistance is also not forthcoming. In this connection she asks: 

"Are we destined to witness a situation in which modern techno- 
logical appliances are designed, and modern teaching techniques 
developed, which we are unable to make available to the inde- 
pendent blind people in our country — the very people who are 
able to use them to the best possible advantage.^" 
One therefore comes to the conclusion that the S.A. Blind Workers 
Organization is a viable movement which deals with all facets of the 
rendering of services to the blind on a national level. 

The League of Friends of the Blind 

In 1 93 1 the Rev. A.W. Blaxall, then superintendent of the Athlone 
School for the Blind, undertook a tour, accompanied by a few of his 
pupils, to Johannesburg and Kimberley in order to gain support for 
the school. To encourage Coloured parents to send their blind chil- 
dren to the school, he addressed meetings where demonstrations were 
given by the pupils of their work. They received so much support, es- 
pecially in Kimberley, and made so many friends among the Coloured 
community, that the idea occured to him to form an organization for 
the rendering of assistance not only to the Athlone School but also to 
adult blind persons. Shortly after the return of the group to Cape 
Town a meeting of interested persons was held in the Zuid Afrikaanse 
Gesticht, a hall belonging to a church denomination in Cape Town. 
The persons who were responsible for the arrangements were the Rev. 
A. W. Blaxall, Mr I.J. Jacobs and Mr E. Ramsdale. At the meeting the 
League of Friends of the Blind was established and Mr Blaxall was 



396 



elected chairman. He however resigned after three months and Mr I.J. 
Jacobs succeeded him. Mr E. Ramsdale was elected as secretary and 
Miss F. January as treasurer. The object was to provide an extensive 
service to Coloured blind persons by establishing branches in various 
parts of the country. The remote branches, namely those in Kimberley 
and Port Elizabeth, were dissolved after some time but the branches in 
the Cape Peninsula remained active. The first branch was established 
in Wynberg, and according to the brochure which was published dur- 
ing the fifties, there were also branches at Claremont, Retreat, Bellville 
and Grassy Park at that time. At the present time there are five 
branches in the Peninsula and three in the country, namely Oudts- 
hoorn, Stellenbosch and Worcester. 

The objectives of the League are set out in the abovementioned bro- 
chure as follows: 

"(a) To arrange and where necessary provide education, training 
and employment for Coloured Blind Persons. 

(b) To provide Relief Grants, Medical Aid, Home Comforts and 
General Assistance to Coloured Blind Persons. 

(c) To provide facilities for the Social Rehabilitation of Coloured 
Blind Persons, particularly in the sphere of improving living 
conditions — general, physical, etc. 

(d) To spread propaganda and take any necessary steps for the 
prevention of blindness. 

(e) To provide any assistance not specified above." 

Besides the welfare services which the League renders to individual 
blind persons, it has also undertaken several important projects. The 
first was the establishment of a hostel for blind women who work for 
the Cape Town Civilian Blind Society, or elsewhere. The second large 
project was the establishment of a holiday home at Strandfontein in 
the Cape Peninsula. The building as well as the furnishings was ac- 
quired with the aid of the Lions International service club. It was 
opened in February 1975 by the president of Lions International. The 
South African National Council for the Blind periodically contributes 
towards the maintenance of the holiday home. The building serves va- 
rious purposes. Besides housing blind persons who come to spend 
their holidays there, accommodation is also provided for groups of 
pupils of the Athlone School for the Blind as well as for persons (and 
their escorts) who have to attend Cape hospitals for eye treatment. 



397 



Another project which is being undertaken at the present time is the 
building of a hostel (or men, which will fill a great need. 

The League of Friends of the Blind works in close collaboration with 
the Division for Coloured Blind and consequently a much wider field 
is covered than was previously possible. The present chairman of the 
League is Mr M. P. Lewin, and Rev. P. M. Bam is the Secretary. At the 
beginning the name of Mr L J. Jacobs was mentioned as one of the 
founder members of the League and also as virtually its first chairman. 
In view of the fact that he played an important part in many fields of 
welfare work for Coloured blind persons, it is appropriate that a short 
review of his life and work should be given at this stage. 

Isaac John Jacobs was born on 28 July 1907 and was therefore over 
19 years when the Athlone School for the Blind was established in 
1927. Although he was older than the admission age, permission was 
granted for him to attend the School. He took a course in piano tun- 
ing, a profession he practised until quite recently. He was also involved 
in welfare work and was the first president of the International Youth 
Organization. For many years he was a lay preacher in the Methodist 
Church. It can be deduced from the above as well as from the history 
of the Division for Coloured Blind, that he played an important part in 
organizations for the blind and, assisted by his wife, in various welfare 
projects. In 1976 he was granted honorary life-membership of the Lea- 
gue of Friends of the Blind in recognition of the leading role he had 
played for forty-five years in the organization. 

The South African Guide-dog Association for the Blind 

The guide-dog movement was started on the initiative of Mrs Gladys 
Evans. As a blind person it was her desire to possess a guide-dog, since 
she was of a very independent nature. In June 1952 she went to the 
school of the British Guide-Dog Association at Leamington Spa to ob- 
tain a guide-dog. There was no vacancy however, and she had to wait 
until February 1953 for an opportunity to receive the necessary train- 
ing along with her dog. This was the well-known Sheena. After return- 
ing to South Africa, she and Mr Douglas Evans to whom she was mar- 
ried at the time, decided to start a similar organization here. The initial 
step was to form a committee of interested persons. A meeting was 
held in January 1954 and the S.A. Guide-dog Association was born. 
Two members of the committee were well-known in the field of ser- 



398 



Mrs Gladys Evans, lounder ot the S.A. Guide 
Dogs Association. 



Mrs Hugh Wiley, lounder-member oi the S.A. 
National Council lor the Blind, founder of the 
O.F.S. Society 




399 



vices to the blind. They were Dr Walter Cohen and Dr P. Boshoff. Mr 
D. M. Evans was elected chairman, and from the beginning he was the 
driving force behind the movement. 

It was realised however, that the first task of the newly established 
organization would be the raising of funds. A huge fund-raising cam- 
paign was launched under the leadership of Gladys Evans, who also 
used her dog Sheena for this purpose. She is fond of saying that it was 
a triumvirate that put the Assosiation on its feet: Douglas and Gladys 
Evans, and Sheena. The campaign which was organized country-wide 
was a huge success. The result was that already in 1955 a house and 
premises were hired at 1 Glamorgan Road, Parkwood, Johannesburg. 
Michael Bibicoff and his wife were brought from England to take 
charge of the training of the guide-dogs and their blind masters. The 
interesting part of this appointment was that Mr Bibicoff had been an 
instructor at Leamington Spa when Mrs Evans was there, and she had 
received her training from him. Then already she had discussed with 
him the possibility of a training centre in South Africa. By virtue of the 
fact that such an experienced instructor could be employed the first 
two guide-dogs and their masters were able to complete their training 
as early as the beginning of 1956. 

After a second national fund-raising campaign had been launched, 
the Association bought a property in Parktown in 1958, on which it 
built a training centre. The work progressed, and approximately ten to 
twelve dogs were trained annually. 

Problems were encountered, however, with the training of appren- 
tice instructors. The work was demanding, and most of them left be- 
fore completing the course. A further setback ensued when Mr Bibicoff 
decided to return to England in 1960. Fortunately the Association was 
able to obtain the services of Mr Lionel Wilson, a qualified instructor 
from England. In 1961 Mr Kenneth Lord joined the organization. He 
qualified as an instructor in September 1963, and when Mr Wilson re- 
signed in 1969, Mr Lord succeeded him as chief instructor. He still 
serves the Association in that capacity. 

In 1966 it was decided to name the institution the Gladys Evans 
Training Centre. In the same year Mr D. M. Evans resigned after 14 
years as chairman and Mr C. Z. Rangecroft was elected to succeed him. 

Besides the guide-dog as an aid to mobility there is another aid na- 
mely the long cane, the use of which was developed in America shortly 
after the second World War. In this connection the committee of the 



400 



Guide-Dog Association decided to send Mr Lord to the Midlands Mo- 
bility Centre, England, early in 1969, to take a course in the long cane 
technique. He returned as a qualified instructor, but could not start 
immediately with the instruction, since the demand for guide-dogs was 
so great at that time that the staff were fully occupied. It was only in 
1974, when Mr Daniel Wood arrived from America on a two-year con- 
tract, that the long cane technique could be put into practice. Mr 
Wood returned in February 1976. Subsequendy a full course in orien- 
tation and mobility employing the long cane technique was underta- 
ken by the organization under the guidance of Mr Lord. The services 
of Mr Tom Davies of New Zealand were obtained to assist him. 

In the meantime the training of guide-dogs continued. In 1972 Mr 
Lord attended a conference in Cannes, France, where representatives 
of various training schools were present. He mentions in his report 
that the type of harness which is in use in South Africa had attracted a 
great deal of attention. 

Mr Lord also attended a conference on mobility and orientation in 
Australia, as well as the second international congress in London in 
July 1976, which was attended by delegates from seventeen countries. 
These facts are mentioned to indicate how well aware the management 
of the Association was of the necessity for international contacts which 
could lead to the improvement of the service here. 

With regard to the present situation, the most recent report of the 
S.A. Guide-Dog Association for the Blind to the National Council, 
states that 38 dogs have undergone training during the past three 
years, which brings the total of trained guide-dogs since the establish- 
ment of the Association to approximately 300. The service is offered to 
all population groups and extensive developments are held in pros- 
pect. With regard to the Orientation and Mobility school (long cane 
training), two courses were offered during 1978 and eight mobility ins- 
tructors were trained. The number has now reached 30, and 4 more 
are expected to qualify in 1979. 

On various occasions Mr Lord has set forth the advantages of taking 
a course in mobility and orientation for the blind. He does this by 
means of lectures at conferences, and the distribution of information. 

Tape Aids for the Blind 

Tape Aids for the Blind is a national organization which provides all 



401 



types of literature on tape for the blind of South Africa. The service is 
free. The literature can be divided into two main categories: 

Recordings of an educational nature for individuals including 

students, and for schools and similar institutions; 

Recordings of recreational literature, fiction and non-fiction for 

all blind persons. 

The organization which renders extensive services, and is housed in 
its own building in Durban, started on a very small scale. In 1958 Jan 
Andries Venter, a railway clerk in Durban who was a tape enthusiast, 
recorded a book on tape for a blind friend. This made him realise the 
value of tape recording for the blind, not only for recreational pur- 
poses but also to assist students in their studies. The result was that he 
enlisted the aid of a group of people to record books for the blind on 
tape. This eventually led to the establishment of Tape-Aids for the 
Blind in the same year (1958). 

Besides providing books on tape to individual blind persons, the or- 
ganization soon expanded to include a library service. Selected books 
in both official languages were made available on loan. The produc- 
tion grew and developed to such an extent that a catalogue had to be 
compiled and distributed among the readers. Any blind person could 
become a member of the library, free of charge, and those who could 
not afford to acquire their own tape recorder, were provided with one 
on indefinite loan. The service soon became known among the blind 
and the number of members increased rapidly. 

The annual reports of the organization record a sustained growth 
and developement with regard to both production and diversification. 
In order to describe the growth as well as the diversity of services, we 
quote from various reports. 

In the 18th biennial report of the Council (1964 - 1966) Tape Aids 
for the Blind reports as follows: 

"There are now nearly 450 members of whom an average of over 
300 are served monthly, and during 1965 no fewer than 56 re- 
corders were provided on indefinite loan to blind people. Over 
100 new books were added to the library last year (1965) and 
there are now nearly 400 titles available ... In addition to books 
in English and Afrikaans, many text books in Zulu and Xhosa are 
currently being read at levels from Sub A to Standard six." 
In comparison with the abovementioned production figures we 



402 



quote the following from the Chairman's report for the year ending 3 1 

December 1978: 

"We now have more than 3 000 titles in our library — to be pre- 
cise 3 169. To try and give you some idea as to the size of our lib- 
rary and the numbers of cassettes we hold, may I help you with 
some arithmetic. If we have 3 000 titles and an average book 
consists of eight cassettes, and we hold an average six copies of 
each book, it means we have in our library no less than 144 000 
cassettes, each of which contains 90 minutes reading." 
With regard to the diversity of literature, we read the following in a 

brochure (Our Years of Progress) which appeard in 1970: 

"Text books and lecture notes have veen recorded on subjects as 
diverse as Latin and Economics, English literature and Biology, 
the Law of Administration of Estates and the Practice of Medi- 
cine." 

In the same brochure it was mentioned that the number of persons 
who received machines on loan, had risen to 100. At that time reading 
material was sent to an average of 547 readers per month. 

The expansion of Tape Aids for the Blind over the past 21 years since 
its inception, was made possible through an effective system of pub- 
licity and fund-raising. All funds are contributed by the private sector, 
since the organization receives no financial support from the State. A 
feature of the service is that all reading is done by volunteers only. An 
effective system of screening ensures that a high standard of recording 
is maintained. 

Branches of Tape Aids for the Blind exist in Johannesburg, Cape 
Town, Springs, Pietermaritzburg, Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein. 
Each branch has a committee which amongst other duties is respon- 
sible for making contact with new members, visiting old age homes 
with the object of introducing the service, and rendering assistance in 
connection with fund-raising and general propaganda work. The Jo- 
hannesburg branch contributes approximately one third of the read- 
ing material and three modern studios have been instituted there. 

Tape Aids for the Blind is governed by a Council on which represen- 
tatives from various parts of the country serve. The present Chairman 
is Mr Peter Ditz. Persons who in the past played a prominent part in 
the organization were Air Marshal Sir Douglas Jackman, a former 
Chairman, Mr Alan Wilson who still serves on the Council, and Mrs 
Stella Stent, a retired National Secretary. 



403 



Worcester School for the Blind 

It has previously been stated in chapter one that the rendering of 
services to the bhiui in South Africa f)egan with tfie education of the 
blind child. This took place when the Deaf and Blind Institute was es- 
tablished in 1881. From this sprang the Worcester School for the 
Blind. Its early history has already been dealt with up to 1929, a year 
which is of two-fold importance, for it was then that the National 
Council for the Blind was established, and also that Mr (later Dr) P.E. 
Biesenbach was appointed principal of the Worcester School. We 
therefore continue the history of the School from this point onwards. 

With the appointment of Mr P.E. Biesenbach a new order was 
ushered in. The Vocational Education and Special Schools Act (Act no. 
29 of 1928) by which the Department of Education, Arts and Science 
assumed responsibility for special education, had just come into force. 
To this must be added that Biesenbach had a new approach to the edu- 
cation of the blind child. He openly stated that special education in it- 
self was not the ultimate objective, and that if pupils who have com- 
pleted their courses could not lead a gainful existence, their education 
had been lacking in some way or other. However, this did not indicate 
that he denied his pupils to achieve the highest academic qualifications 
possible. On the contrary, he insisted that the blind were entitled to 
these. In order to achieve this object, he first raised the school-leaving 
level from standard seven to standard eight. (The first group of Junior 
Certificate candidates wrote their examinations at the end of 1931). In 
addition he extended the vocational department in order to introduce 
new trades. During 1930 an additional post of vocational instructor 
was created, to which Mr G.H. Biesenbach was appointed. After nego- 
tiations with the Department, a post of vice-principal was also created 
from January 1931. Mr V.H. Vaughan was appointed to this post. The 
vice-principal would not only be an additional member of the staff, 
but would also be responsible for the academic section of the school, 
thus leaving the principal free to concentrate on the general organiza- 
tion and the administration of the school, to promote a better rela- 
tionship between the school and the public, and to obtain without 
which expansion could not take place. Furthermore the 
principal could now direct his attention to the vocational section with 
the object of establishing a workshop for those school-leavers who 
could not make a living in open labour. A report on the establishment 
of the Workshops and Homes for the Blind in 1933, will follow later. 



404 



In order to implement the expansion which Mr Biesenbach had in 
mind, a building programme had to be planned. The first new build- 
ing to be erected was a gymnasium hall in 1934. He was concerned 
about the general health of his blind pupils. In his thesis'^ he gave 
much thought to the matter. In the same year a post for a teacher of 
physical education was created. Three years later, in 1937, a new 
school building was erected. The increase in the number of pupils and 
consequently of the staff, as well as the possibility that the matricula- 
tion course would be introduced later made this necessary. Further ex- 
pansion for the printing of school books in braille had become urgent. 
A braille printing press is indispensable in a school for the blind, espe- 
cially in South Africa, where all the required school text books have to 
be printed in both English and Afrikaans braille. In addition the Bible 
in Afrikaans appeared at that time, and had to be transcribed into 
braille. 

With regard to Afrikaans braille, it should be mentioned that in 
1932 it had become necessary to revise the system which was in use in 
view of certain changes which had been made to the English braille sy- 
stem during that year, and which had to be taken into account in con- 
nection with Afrikaans braille. 

When the Deaf and Blind Institute opened a section for the blind in 
1891 the first few pupils did not use braille but line type. ' ^ After Mr Be- 
sselaar's (Vice- Principal) return from Europe a few months later, 
braille was immediately introduced. For English the current system of 
English braille was used and certain braille books were ordered from 
England. With regard to Dutch braille (Afrikaans had not yet been in- 
troduced into the schools) the Dutch system of braille contractions 
were used. There were very few of these in comparison with English 
braille. The contractions that existed were reviewed and added to by a 
group of teachers and pupils. This system was completed in 1907. 

When Dutch was replaced by Afrikaans in the school, the Dutch 
braille system was applied to Afrikaans. This was unsatisfactory, with 
the result that Mr M.J. Besselaar, then principal of the school, and his 
staff devised a system specifically for Afrikaans, which was completed 
in 1923. Afrikaans books were from then onward printed in this sy- 
stem. 

In 1932 the revision of the Afrikaans braille system was assigned to 
the vice-principal, Mr V. H. Vaughan. The matter was referred to the 
Department of Union Education which, on the recommendation of the 



405 



School, appointed a committee to be of assistance. Besides the braille- 
printer Mr J. J. Cronje, and Mr Vaughan, who were sighted persons, 
all the other members of the committee were blind since the testing of 
specific signs and contractions had to be done by blind persons them- 
selves. The committee consisted of: Messrs V. H. Vaughan (chairman), 
J. J. Cronje, B. Kruger, T. Matthews, S. Muller, P. Schutte and C. 
Kruger. In order to determine which contractions had to be included 
in the system it was necessary to establish the incidence of letter combi- 
nations and words which occur most frequently in Afrikaans. Braille 
signs had to be found for them. For this purpose 269 009 words were 
counted from sixteen different types of literature. This statistical mate- 
rial which was then collated and analysed was derived from the book 
by G. Aucamp: Woordeskat en Woordeherhaling,^^ which appeard in 1932. 
The author's object was to determine which 1 000 words in Afrikaans 
were most frequendy used.'^ 

Towards the middle of 1934 a tentative system had already been 
completed and a few articles has appeared in the Nuwe Pionier, a 
braille magazine published by the school. This afforded braille readers 
the opportunity of commenting on, and discussing the new symbols. 
The braille committee met frequently in order to make the necessary 
alterations until the time arrived that a final manual could be com- 
piled. This was done by Mr V.H. Vaughan and it appeard in 1938 in 
both sighted and braille print. A shorthand braille system in Afrikaans 
was subsequently devised. It was completed in 1942. This was done 
with a view to training braille shorthand typists at the School. 

When it became expedient, after almost twenty years, to make cer- 
tain adjustments to the Afrikaans braille system, a conference was con- 
vened by Mr Biesenbach, at which braille experts from all parts of the 
country were present. It was held in March 1959, under the chairman- 
ship of Mr V. H. Vaughan, 20 who represented the Department of Edu- 
cation, Arts and Science. At the conference it was resolved to request 
Miss C. E. Aucamp and Mr J. P. van Eeden to compile a revised ma- 
nual. Miss Aucamp is still a member of the staff of the Worcester 
School and Mr Van Eeden is head of the braille printing press. When 
the revised manual appeared in 1964, Mr Theo Pauw, principal of the 
School, wrote the introduction, and at the end thanked certain persons 
and bodies, amongst whom were "Miss C.E. Aucamp and Mr J. P. van 
Eeden, who with true dedication, performed a labour of love on behalf 
of the School and the blind of South Africa." 



406 



For many years after the establishment of the school text books had 
to be transcribed into braille by hand by teachers and pupils. In 1903 a 
braille printing press was acquired, but each dot had to be set by hand, 
which was a time consuming operation. In 1904 Sir Abe Bailey (the 
well-known financier) made a donation to the School for the purchas- 
ing of the first braille writing machine (also known as the stereo ma- 
chine), by which means mass production of braille was made possible. 
This machine which was operated with the foot, has since been re- 
placed by electrically driven stereo machines. 

The first printer was appointed in 1905. He was Mr Willem Marais, 
a blind person. He was later succeeded by two blind persons, one after 
the other, until a sighted person was appointed in 1924. He was Mr J.J. 
Cronje who was mainly responsible for the initial expansion of the 
printing department. Stereo and copying machines were ordered from 
abroad, and the staff was gradually augmented. After the death of Mr 
Cronje in 1946, Mr A. J. Viljoen became the head of the printing de- 
partment. When he resigned at the end of 1949, Mr J. P. van Eeden was 
appointed in his place in 1950. He is still today the head of the printing 
press. As early as 1933 the first Afrikaans Bible book was printed in 
braille. It was the Gospel of St. John. However, owing to technical 
problems which arose, the work was suspended but was resumed in 
1939. The entire Afrikaans Bible was completed on 26 August 1940, 
and consisted of 75 volumes. In a later reprint the number of volumes 
was reduced to half as many as the original by increasing the number 
of pages in each volume. 

At the present time a new building is being erected by the School for 
the production of literature in all three media: braille, tape, and large 
print. 

An important milestone in the history of the school was the intro- 
duction of the matriculation course in 1943. The first candidates sat for 
the examination at the end of 1944. It was a forward step, for matricu- 
lation had become a prerequisite for taking the physiotherapy course 
at the Royal National Institute for the Blind in London, to which our 
students were sent for their training. The matriculation certificate was 
also essential for entrance to a university. 

In 1947 the vice-principal went overseas to take a course in training 
of teachers at schools for the blind at the Perkins School for the Blind, 
Boston, U.S.A. On his return he introduced an in-service training 
course for the teaching staff. The course, however, was not recognised 



407 



by the Department of Education, and many years elapsed before a com- 
plete university course became a reality. This occurred in 1965, when a 
course was instituted at the University of South Africa. 

Another important development was the introduction of a depart- 
ment of psychology in 1949, when Mr J. S. Gericke was appointed as 
teacher-psychologist. This fulfilled a great need, in view of the specific 
problems of the visually handicapped child, and the neccessity for the 
devising of adapted tests. Mr Gericke has been doing pioneering work 
in this field for many years. 

In 1959 a section for deaf-blind pupils was started at the school. The 
incentive to bring this about was the discovery of an eleven year old 
boy at Benoni, David Geyser, who had become blind and deaf after an 
attack of cerebral meningitis. He was admitted to the school in January 
1959. The first teacher and head of this department was Miss K. van 
Rensburg who had had many years experience of the education of the 
deaf. In August 1958 she left for America and attended a course in the 
teaching of the deaf-blind at the Perkins School for the Blind in Bos- 
ton. She returned to South Afica in January 1959. Under her guidance 
the work expanded and a separate building was erected to house the 
department. She retired in 1968 after 10 years of service in this field. 
The work was continued with great success by those who followed in 
her footsteps. 

We have already made mention of the recording of books on tape by 
the S.A. Library for the Blind. It stands to reason that the School 
would follow the Library's example, since tape must be considered 
supplementary to braille as a medium in teaching blind pupils. In 1961 
the School sent Mr W. Viljoen abroad to study the production of 
books on tape. After his return a recording studio was built, and the 
tapes department was placed on a firm footing. Besides the books 
which are recorded on tape a weekly Afrikaans magazine and a news- 
letter are also published. 

Dr Biesenbach retired in 1961 after 32 years of service as the prin- 
cipal of the Worcester School for the Blind. Since he had also played an 
important part in the establishment and development of the National 
Council, and had served on the Executive Committee for a number of 
years, including a period as vice-chairman, it is appropriate to report 
briefly in his life and work. 

Paul Ewald Biesenbach was born on 23 October 1899 at Steinkopf, 
Namaqualand, where his father was a missionary of a German Mission 



408 



Society. After having completed his schooHng at Carnarvon he at- 
tended the University of Stellenbosch where he received the degrees of 
B.A. and B. Ed. As early as the end of 1925 the principalship of the 
Worcester School for the Blind was offered to him. At first he declined, 
but after a further period of study and teaching at various schools, he 
eventually accepted the post. The Board of Management of the School 
then decided that he should undertake an overseas study tour before 
starting with his work. Accompanied by Mrs Biesenbach, he left in 
March 1928, and returned at the end of of the year. He assumed duty 
in January 1929 as principal of the school. 

Biesenbach's primary and most important aim was to secure full sta- 
tus for the school, which would comprise all the academic and other 
facilities of an ordinary school. The major developments which took 
place during his term of office are examples of his endeavour. 

He remained a student, as is proved by the comprehensive thesis he 
wrote for his doctor's degree in education, which traces the history of 
the school, gives a critical survey of various aspects of the education of 
the blind, and also deals with welfare work amongst the blind. 

It has previously been mentioned that Dr Biesenbach diligently ap- 
plied himself to the task of establishing an institution where work 
could be provided for those who are unable to make a living in the 
open labour situation. The result was that a workshop was opened on 
1 May 1933. Under his supervision as its superintendent, the workshop 
expanded rapidly and today is considered the best developed system of 
sheltered employment for the blind in the country. It is run on modern 
factory lines. 

Dr Biesenbach's constant interest in cultural matters and in affairs of 
his community continued after his retirement. He was a member of the 
Town Council of Worcester as well as of the School Board, the Hos- 
pital Board, the Chamber of Commerce and serveral other bodies. He 
remained in office as the superintendent of the workshop until 1968. 
He died in December 1971. 

Mr Theo Pauw succeeded Dr Biesenbach as principal of the school 
in 1961. In the chapter where a summary is given of his life and work, 
reference has been made to the developments which took place at the 
School during his term of office, and his involvement with them, as 
well as to his educational study tours to other countries. To this must 
be added a few of the other outstanding events and developements 
which took place at the time. 



409 



In 1964 a separate department for the education of the partially 
sighted was begun. The classes were conducted in a temporary build- 
ing, geographically separated from the main school building. Emanat- 
ing from this a beginning was made with the printing of large type 
books. The planning of a new building for the partially sighted has 
now reached its final stages. 

In April 1964 the first conference on the education of the blind and 
partially sighted was organised by the School and was held at Worces- 
ter. Four more conferences followed at intervals, at Worcester and in 
Pretoria. 

In view of the expansion which had taken place in connection with 
the provision of literature in braille, on tape, and in large print, it was 
decided to erect a building for the production of all three media. 
Owing to lack of space on the campus a site was bought elsewhere in 
Worcester by the Board of Management. This production unit is now 
in the course of construction. 

In 1975 a new music department was opened. The building houses, 
amongst other things, a library for braille music and a small audito- 
rium. 

With regard to the organization of the School itself, an information 
office for the convenience of visitors, parents, students and other inte- 
rested persons was opened in 1977. It is permanently manned by a 
member of the staff. In this connection it should also be mentioned 
that the School periodically publishes monographs on subjects per- 
taining to various aspects of the education and care of the visually 
handicapped child. 

When studying any one of the School's latest annual reports, one is 
impressed by the extensive extramural programme of the School. It is 
supplementary to the academic teaching, and is in accordance with the 
policy of the School as well as Mr Pauw's view that all facets of the 
child's development should receive attention. 

Mr Pauw retired on 30 June 1979 and was succeeded on 1 July 1979 
by Mr Johan van der Poel, who was formerly the principal of the Efata 
School for the Blind and Deaf in Umtata, Transkei. 

The Athlone School for the Blind 

When the Athlone School for the Blind was established in 1927 (the 
story of its establishment was told in Chapter 1) Mr S. H. Lawrence was 
appointed Superintendent and his wife, Mrs 1. J. Lawrence, as 



410 



"Teacher- Matron". Mr Lawrence had been a missionary for some 
time in the Far East and Mrs Lawrence was a quahfied teacher of the 
bhnd.^' The School was situated in a dwelling-house in Athlone^^ near 
Cape Town, but after a year was moved to temporary corrugated iron 
buildings at Faure, near Somerset West. After Mr Lawrence's depar- 
ture in 1931, the Rev. A. W. Blaxall succeeded him as Superintendent. 
Mrs Lawrence continued in the post of "Principal-teacher", and Mrs 
Florence Blaxall was appointed Matron. 

When Mr and Mrs Blaxall moved to Johannesburg on 1 April 1937, 
a new order was ushered in. The post of Superintendent was abolished 
and replaced by that of Principal. Mr A. B. W. Marlow was appointed 
from January 1938, and Mrs Lawrence as Vice- Principal. It can be pre- 
sumed that Mrs Lawrence deputised for the nine months in the interim 
between Mr BlaxalFs departure and the arrival of Mr Marlow. 

From the very beginning the school's management board realised 
that training in certain trades was essential with a view to future em- 
ployment after the pupils left school. In 1929 Mr P. R. Botha, who had 
been trained at the Worcester School for the Blind, was appointed as 
Trade Instructor. Basket making was the main trade at that time. In 
1936 Miss E. Yardley, a qualified instructress from England, was ap- 
pointed to teach the girls, mainly weaving and knitting. Later, in 1939, 
a second post of instructor was created for the boys, and Mr T. R. Gair 
was appointed. 

Although the school had been established primarily "for the educa- 
tion of blind Coloured children", it was initially made accessible to 
non-white blind children from all over the country since there were no 
schools for blind Blacks or Indians at that time. In the third biennial 
report of the National Council (1933-1934) the following figures in 
connection with the enrolment were supplied: 

"Twenty-four new pupils were admitted during the year, bring- 
ing the total number of blind persons in the institution up to 78. 
Since the school opened in 1927 the number entered in our books 
is 95, from which the following interesting figures are to be 
noted: Coloured 64, African 30, Indian 1. From the Cape Pro- 
vince 72, Transvaal 10, O.F.S. 9, Natal 2, Basotuland 2." 
When in the fifties a beginning was made with the establishment of 
schools for Black blind children and one for Indians, the number of 
children from these groups gradually diminished, with the result that 
at the present time it is a school for Coloureds only. In 1961 the School 



411 



was placed under the management ol the Administration of Coloured 
Affairs, in accordance with legislation. In this connection it should be 
mentioned that the School, as a state aided institution, was initially 
subsidised by the then Department of Union Education, according to a 
fixed formula, in accordance with Act. No. 21 of 1928. The full salaries 
of the school staff, and a part of the salaries of the other staff members 
were paid, as well as a subsidy on approved expenditure and an allo- 
wance for each child, calculated according to a means test which was 
applicable to their parents. When the Administration of Coloured Af- 
fairs took over, the same formula of subsidisation was applied. The 
subsidies were increased as the time went on, and at present they 
amount to more than 90 per cent of the total expenditure of the 
school. 

Two developments which took place during the first decade of the 
school's history deserve to be mentioned. The first is in connection 
with the employment of the pupils after they had completed their vo- 
cational training. At the second meeting of the Management Board, 
held on 14 November 1933, it was resolved to change the name of the 
School to "The Athlone School and Workshops for the Blind (Co- 
loured, Indian and Bantu)". It was only in 1936, however, that the 
Management Board hired a house in Faure Township, where five 
workers and three trainees were taken into service. Mr T. R. Gair was 
appointed Instructor. The workshop functioned until 1939, when Mr 
Gair accepted a post at the School. 

The second matter, which could be considered unique for those 
days, was the establishment of a class for partially sighted children at 
the School in 1934. It was the first effort made in connection with the 
education of the partially sighted in this country. The Worcester 
School for the Blind only started with such a class in 1948, and the first 
school, namely the Prinshof School for the Partially Sighted in Preto- 
ria, was established in 1963. Since 1934 the Athlone School has conti- 
nued with the provision of education for the partially sighted and this 
is still a feature of the school at the present day. 

After the appointment of Mr Marlow in 1937, it became clear that, 
in view of the developments which he held in prospect, a new perma- 
nent school had to be built. No expansion was possible at the corru- 
gated iron buildings at Faure. The search for a suitable site then began. 
After negotiations a large piece of ground in the wooded area of the 
Cape Flats south of Bellville was acquired. Mr Marlow immediately be- 



412 



came actively engaged in the planning of the buildings. A modern 
school with all the necessary facilities for the education of the visually 
handicapped child rose on the site. The new School was occupied in 
July 1941. The dedication of the building was performed by the Arch- 
bishop of Cape Town, and the official opening took place on 26 Febr- 
uary 1942. The guest speaker was the Honourable J. H. Hofmeyr, Mi- 
nister of Education. 

As the numbers increased and the work expanded, additions to the 
buildings had to be made from time to time, to keep pace with the de- 
mands of modern education. For that reason equipment was installed 
for the printing of large-type books for the pupils in the class for the 
partially sighted. All textbooks in braille were printed by the Worcester 
School for the Blind. 

The highest class in the school was standard eight. It was recently 
decided, however, to introduce the Senior Certificate course, and the 
first pupils will write the examination next year. 

Mr Marlow retired on 30 June 1965. His contribution to the educa- 
tion of the blind child and the role he played with regard to the general 
welfare of the blind through his connection with the S. A. National 
Council for the Blind, is described elsewhere. 

The new Principal was Mr A. B. Cilliers. He assumed duty on 1 July 
1965. From the school records it appears that two important mile- 
stones were reached during his term of office. Firstly, the separation of 
the partially sighted section was brought into effect. An empty house 
was equipped for this purpose. Secondly, a course in telephony was in- 
troduced in July 1967 and the first two candidates completed their 
course at the end of that year. 

On 31 March 1969 Mr Cilliers resigned to accept the post of Inspec- 
tor in the Department of Indian Affiars. Mr J. R. Solms was appointed 
in his place and assumed duty on 1 April 1969. 

Junias Reinecke Solms was indeed no newcomer to the field of the 
education of the visually handicapped when he became Principal of the 
School. In 1957 he was appointed Vice- Principal, and was thus con- 
versant with the organization of the School and the education of the 
blind child. 

During his term of office Mr Solms not only maintained the high 
standard of teaching but was also instrumental in the implementation 
of many new developments.^* In this connection the appointment of 
the first music teacher at the School in January 1973 should be men- 



413 



tioned. In that same year, namely in August 1973, a class for deaf-blind 
children was begun with Mrs G. Lambert as the responsible teacher. In 
September 1972 she had started with a course in the education of the 
deaf-blind at the Perkins School for the Blind, Boston, U.S.A. which 
she completed in June 1973. The next important development was the 
establishment of a class for retarded blind and partially sighted chil- 
dren in June 1975. Instruction in mobility and orientation followed. In 
his 49th annual report (1975-1976) the Principal reported as follows: 
"The instruction given to senior pupils in mobility and orienta- 
tion referred to in our last report still continues. This service is 
provided by St Dunstan's entirely at their expense and is of inesti- 
mable value ot our pupils." 
With regard to the expansion of the activities of the School Mr 
Solms could state in his last report ( 1976- 1977) that the Administration 
of Coloured Affairs had approved a number of senior posts, namely 
one of deputy principal, three additional posts of vice-principal and 
two of senior teachers, one of whom would be a teacher-psychologist. 
In this connection Mr Solms continues: 

"These posts are currently being advertised, and when filled will 
make it possible to extend the range of teaching in the school, es- 
pecially in the secondary area, where it has long been our desire 
to offer courses up to the senior certificate level for suitable can- 
didates." 

During his term of office of 21 years at the Athlone School for the 
Blind, Mr Solms had made an intensive study of braille, as well as of 
the methods which should be applied to teach it to classes for begin- 
ners. He is one of the rare sighted persons who can read braille with 
their fingers. In view of his knowledge of braille, he is much in demand 
at conferences as a speaker on the subject. It can also be stated that, as 
one of the representatives of the National Council for the Blind, he at- 
tended the Conference of the International Council for the Education 
of the Visually Handicapped in Paris, France, in 1977. At present he 
serves on the Executive Committee of the National Council. 

After Mr Solms's retirement at the end of 1977, Mr B. P. Pizer was 
appointed Principal. From his first annual report it appears that more 
developments are envisaged. The enlargement of the school buildings 
is considered a first priority, in view of the increase in the number of 
pupils and the introduction of the Senior Certificate course. It was 
further resolved by the Advisory Board that workshops should be es- 



414 



I 



tablished and accommodation provided for those school-leavers who 
need sheltered employment. The Principal explained that this was not 
an original idea, since privision for such developments had been writ- 
ten into the constitution and had indeed existed previously at Faure. 

New Horizon School for the Blind. 

After the publication of the "Report of the Inter- Departmental Com- 
mittee on Deviate Children, Volume II (non- European ChildrenP^ in 
1950, the South African National Council for the Deaf convened a con- 
ference in 1952 at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg 
to discuss the findings of the committee. Various organizations in- 
volved in welfare work for the handicapped were invited to send re- 
presentatives. Mr K. M. Pillay represented the Natal Indian Blind So- 
ciety. At the conference he delivered a strong plea for the establishment 
of a school for Indian blind children in Natal, in consequence of para- 
graph 163 of the report, which under the heading: "Deviate Indian 
Children", reads as follows: 

"According to the above statistics there are not enough deviates 
with defects of sight defects of hearing, epileptics and cripples to 
justify the establishment of small separate schools. Consequendy 
we recommend the erection of one large school to provide for the 
worst cases of deviation, namely the blind, partially sighted, the 
deaf, epileptics and serious cases of crippling. It is further recom- 
mended that this school should be erected in Durban so that it 
should be near the future training centre for non- European doc- 
tors'." 

After Mr Pillay's speech Dr Blaxall, the chairman, asked Dr C. M. 
van Antwerp, representative of the Department of Education, Arts and 
Science, whether he was in a position to reply to the matters on which 
Mr Pillay had touched. It must be stated here that special education of 
all population groups was the responsibility of the Department of 
Education, Art and Science at that time. Dr van Antwerp replied that 
he was fully aware of the situation and that Mr Pillay should discuss 
the matter with him in Pretoria the following day. In the brochure 
which was published in 1961 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of 
the Natal Indian Blind Society, the circumstances which then pre- 
vailed, were described as follows: 

"This interview with the Department of Education, Arts and Sci- 
ence was then the beginning of the establishment of the Arthur 



415 



Blaxall School for the Blind. The Chairman of the Natal Indian 
Blind Society returned not only with the inspiration gained at the 
Conference, but fully satisfied of the support and encouragement 
of the Department of Education, Arts and Science and outlined 
the whole scheme to his Committee. Because of these facts the 
Workshop- Hostel project was temporarily shelved and work was 
concentrated in establishing a School . . . Almost at the same 
time, a six roomed tin shanty, slum dwelling at 29 Lome Street, 
Durban was offered for sale. This site was ideal and the building 
could be altered to meet the requirements of a school and hostel. 
Again the Society lost no time and before the end of the year 
another milestone had been passed and the property bought for 
£3 350 (R6 700)." 
The Management of the Natal Indian Blind Society which was the 
parent body of the school, decided to name the school after Rev. (later 
Dr) A. W. Blaxall in view of the assistance he gave with the establish- 
ment of the school and the position he held at that time with regard to 
the welfare of the blind. It was therefore officially named the "Arthur 
Blaxall School for the Blind. "^7 

The school was officially opened by Dr Louis van Schalkwijk, Chair- 
man of the South African National Council for the Blind, on 4 Oc- 
tober 1954. 

At that time Dr Blaxall was a minister of the Anglican Church in 
Durban, where he resided. Mrs Blaxall was appointed as acting prin- 
cipal of the school. She was assisted by two teachers who rendered vo- 
luntary service, namely Miss E. C. Champion and Mrs O. Warner.^s 
Miss P. Kristiah, an ex-pupil of the Athlone School for the Blind, as- 
sisted with the teaching of braille and handwork. 

This situation lasted until November 1955 when Mr H. Jagganath 
was appointed as teacher- in-charge, afier he had spent some time at 
the Athlone School for the Blind. The Department decided that the ap- 
pointment of a principal should be kept in abeyance until the number 
of pupils enrolled should warrant it, and the school moved to larger 
buildings. 

As time went on the building became too small and cramped. The 
school which had started with eight pupils, had 27 in 1960, of whom 
only three were day scholars. A search for a site on which to build a 
new school was begun. In the meantime the Management was able to 
hire additional accommodation in the vicinity. This was in an old fac- 



416 



tory building, directly behind the school, which could be converted 
into a vocational section and two classrooms. 

While searching for a suitable site, the idea of a comprehensive insti- 
tution where the various types of handicapped children could be 
housed, was still much in evidence. Due to the lack of information the 
statistics and findings of the Inter-Departmental Committee had to be 
accepted. The Committee had strongly recommended that such a com- 
prehensive school should be established. The Management of the So- 
ciety therefore continued with the project, although they realised that 
it was not in accordance with sound educational principles to accom- 
modate children with different handicaps on the same campus. When 
the Department of Indian Affairs took over the control of special edu- 
cation^^ the plan for a comprehensive institution was abandoned. 

After a continuous search for a suitable site in the environs of Dur- 
ban had proved unsuccessful, the Management of the school was noti- 
fied by the Division for Indian Education of the Department of Indian 
Affairs, that an evacuated school building near Pietermaritzburg was 
available. 

Before reporting on the transfer of the school, it must be stated that 
the post of teacher-in-charge was changed to that of principal, and Mr 
B. C. Nursoo was appointed in that capacity. Mr Jagganath stayed on 
as a teacher for another year. Mr Nursoo, besides possessing teaching 
qualifications and a B. A. degree, also had a university degree in social 
work. He was therefore well qualified for this position. 

Following an investigation in loco, it was found that, although the 
buildings which were situated in Royston Road, Mountain View, 
Pietermaritzburg, were old, the locality and size of the terrain was emi- 
nently suitable for a school for the blind. Nevertheless, a great deal of 
renovation was necessary, and hostel accommodation had to be pro- 
vided. 

The transfer of the school took place in January 1968. The realisa- 
tion that it would be the permanent home of the school under a new 
name brought a feeling of stability and drive to the education as a 
whole. The name of the school was changed on that date (January 
1968) to the New Horizon School for the Blind. 

By this time the school had developed into a complete educational 
institution, and the first Senior Certificate class had already sat for 
their examinations. 

The first major project, namely the provision of residential facilities, 



417 



was later completed, and the M. E. C. Paruk Hostel was opened on 1 
November 1975 by the Honourable S.J. M. Steyn, Minister of Indian 
Affairs. It was a splendid occasion which coincided with the 21st anni- 
versary of the school. The hostel was built at a cost of approximately 
R300 000 of which the Department of Indian Affairs contributed 
R261 000 in the form of a subsidy. Mr. M. E. C. Paruk donated 
R25 000 as part of the balance, which was the school's responsibility. 
This was the reason for his name being given to the building. In his 
speech, as Chairman of the Management Board, Mr C. M. Bassa made 
mention of the financial and other assistance which the Department of 
Indian Affairs had rendered over the years, and of the co-operation 
which existed between the Board and the Government. With regard to 
education Mr Bassa stated the following: 

"The education of the visually handicapped in our community 
has made many strides since the establishment of the School 
which still retains pride of place in the hearts of the people of 
Natal. The programme of education in this School covers a wide 
field: academic, practical, vocational, cultural, recreational. The 
fact that the pupils are blind is not important. What is important 
is that each child is regarded as an individual to be encouraged 
and guided to develop his basic inherent potential to the maxi- 
mum. I should like to thank the Principal, Mr. B. C. Nursoo, and 
every member of the staff, both teaching and non- teaching, for 
their invaluable services given to the pupils at all times." 
The school functions today in the same way as any other modern 
school for the blind and makes provision for tuition from kindergarten 
to senior certificate. It also devotes attention to the less gifted pupil 
and takes the problems which beset the partially sighted child into full 
account. A section for deaf-blind pupils has also been started. The 
school offers psychological services to its pupils, it has a mobility pro- 
gramme and a well-organised handicraft department. The cultural and 
extra-mural activities are not neglected. Music receives its rightful 
place in the school programme. The final results of the Senior Certifi- 
cate examinations were fair, in some years better than in others. It 
should also be noted that several ex-pupils who took a university 
courses, have made a success of their careers. We mention the names of 
two: Zachariah M. Yacoob who at present practises as an advocate in 
Durban and Sivalingam A. Moodley, a teacher at the New Horizon 
School for the Blind in Pietermaritzburg. The fact that a large percen- 



418 



tage of the teachers have already received their Diplomas in Special 
Education, proves that they are eager to expand their knowledge and 
to improve their qualifications. 

The Prinshof School for the Partially Sighted and Preparatory School 
for the Blind 

In the schedule contained in the Special Education Act (Act No. 9 of 
1948) which lists the categories of handicapped children for whom the 
Department of Union Education had to make provision, the partially 
sighted do not appear. Technically speaking, the Provincial Education 
Departments were therefore responsible for the education of partially 
sighted children. Little was done about this, however, except that in 
1952 the Transvaal Education Department established a class at a pri- 
mary school in Johannesburg. In view of the fact that there was a pres- 
sing need for this kind of education on a large scale, the Department of 
Education, Arts and Science appointed a committee in December 1957 
to investigate the educational facilities which existed for partially 
sighted children of all population groups. The members of the Com- 
mittee were Dr. L. van Schalkwijk (Chairman), Dr. P. E. Biesenbach 
and Mr V. H. Vaughan. The report of the Committee appeared in June 
1958. 

The Committee heard verbal evidence from various interested per- 
sons such as Medical Inspectors of Schools, Principals of special 
schools. Chairmen of Management Boards of special schools, and an 
ophthalmologist. Correspondence was conducted with educational 
authorities abroad, and overseas publications were consulted. 

Since partial sight in children is a very wide term which indicates 
conditions ranging from a mild degree of visual impairment to near 
blindness it was the Committee's task to draw up a criterion whereby 
the children in this category could be admitted to a special school for 
the partially sighted. This was done by studying the findings of over- 
seas authorities, ophthalmologists, and the criterion which had previ- 
ously been laid down by the Inter- Departmental Committee on Devi- 
ate Children (1945). When the implications of the revised criterion 
were reviewed the Committee resolved to recommend that provision 
for the Education of the partially sighted should be transferred to the 
Department of Education, Arts and Science. 

The Committee's recommendations were approved by all five edu- 
cation departments (i.e. the four Provincial Education Departments 



419 



and the Department of Education, Arts and Science), and served as a 
basis ior the eventual estabhshnnent of separate schools for partially 
sighted children by the Department of Education, Arts and Science 
with regard to Whites, and the other education departments for the 
other population groups. 

Shortly after the appearance of the report the Transoranje Institute 
f or Special Education in Pretoria applied to the Department of Educa- 
tion, Arts and Science for approval to establish a school for the parti- 
ally sighted. This was granted. 5 After a suitable site had been obtained 
the planning of the buildings were started. Mr P. J. van der Merwe was 
appointed Principal on 1 July 1962, but since the buildings had not yet 
been completed, a house was hired in Pretoria North where the school 
was started with 12 pupils. In July 1963 they moved to the finished part 
of the new school buildings. The number of pupils had increased and 
at the end of 1965 there were 85. The building complex which was ori- 
ginally designed to make provision for 225 children was completed in 
1966. On 19 May 1967 the final phase of the school was officially 
opened by Mrs E. Verwoerd.^^ In the meantime Mr van der Merwe was 
promoted to the post of Inspector of Schools, and Mr P. P. Peach, the 
present Principal, was appointed. He assumed duty on 1 October 
1966. 

The Prinshof School for the Partially Sighted is a complete educa- 
tional institution in the finest sense of the word. It makes provision for 
scholastic, ophthalmological, residential, cultural, guidance and re- 
creational services to its 270 pupils. By means of a system of differential 
education the pupils can follow either an academic or a practical 
course. With regard to the academic course of study, a pupil may 
choose a science, a technical, a commercial, or a general course, ac- 
cording to his interests, aptitude and degree of sight. Specialist services 
are offered at the eye clinic which is manned by a nurse, two part-time 
ophthalmologists, and a team of optometrists who visit the school 
once a week. 

An exceptional aspect of the education of the partially sighted child 
is a programme for the best utilisation of his residual sight, and sight 
stimulation. The most modern low vision aids, including closed circuit 
television, are used. The school also has a well equipped large-print 
printing press and a tape recording section. 

The Department allows the school to accept blind children (with 
braille as their medium) up to Grade II - hence the rest of the name: 



420 



Preparatory School for the Blind. A new building to house this depart- 
ment will be opened shortly. 

Mr Peach, in his capacity as Principal, keeps abreast of the newest 
developments in the field of education of the partially sighted. He also 
remains in close contact with the teaching in the classroom in addition 
to his administrative duties. Nevertheless he still finds time for further 
university study in the field of school administration. In order to ex- 
pand his knowledge and to make international contacts he has already 
undertaken three study tours, the first in 1968, the second in 1972 
when he also attended a meeting of the International Council for the 
Education of Blind Youth in Madrid, and in 1977 when he attended a 
conference of the same body in Paris. His reports which followed on 
the conferences were comprehensive and informative. 

Mr Peach is constantly engaged in broadening his outlook, also with 
regard to education in general. He is the present Vice-Chairman of the 
Association for Vocational and Technical Training and is a member of 
the Joint Matriculation Board, certainly one of the most important 
educational bodies in this country. For a number of years he was a 
member of the Executive Committee of the S.A. National Council for 
the Blind and in that capacity has served on various committees and 
sub-committees. Since 1974 he has been Vice-Chairman of the Coun- 
cil. 

Schools for Black blind children 

The following schools for Black blind children are affiliated to the 
S.A. National Council for the Blind :- 
Siloe School for the Blind 
Bosele School for the Blind 

Vuleka School for Blind and Deaf Zulu Children. 

Siloe School for the Blind 

This school was established in 1951 by the Roman Catholic Church 
at a mission station approximately 40 km south of Pietersburg. It 
serves the Northern Sotho population group. The White staff come 
from Belgium where they were trained. The Black staff can follow an 
in-service course introduced by the Department of Education and 
Training, and which leads to the obtaining of the Diploma in Special 
Education issued by the Department. Up to the present time nine of 



421 



the stall members have taken the course and are in possession ol the 
diploma. 

The school has 135 pupils. Provision is made for both blind and 
partially sighted pupils from the kindergarten class up to standard 8, 
although a few pupils have already passed standard 10. A great deal of 
attention is devoted to handicrafts. A part of the educational pro- 
gramme is instruction to the senior pupils in mobility and orientation. 

An ex-pupil of the school, Mr J. Malatji, is an advocate who was 
called to the bar after he had obtained the degrees of B. Juris and 
L.L.B. at the University of the North. At present he is in the service of 
the Department of Justice of the Government of Lebowa. 

The first Principal was Sister Coudenijs. After her retirement Sister 
Bornauw was appointed in her place. The Rev. A. van den Broucke, 
head of the Mission station, renders valuable service to the school and 
takes a special interest in the children. He was of great assistance to Mr 
J. Malatji during his law studies at the University of the North. 

Bosele School for Blind Blacks 

The Bosele School for Blind Blacks was established in August 1959 
by the Women's Mission Society of the Dutch Reformed Church. The 
School is situated in Lebowa and serves the Bapedi (Northern Sotho). 
It began with 4 pupils under the temporary principalship of Miss O. 
Morrison of the Worcester School for the Blind. The first permanent 
Principal was Mr C. W. Malan who assumed duty in January 1958. He 
was succeeded by Mr H. R. Lemmer in 1962. After Mr Lemmer's ap- 
pointment as Inspector of Schools, Mr M. J. van den Berg was ap- 
pointed. He is still the Principal of the school. 

Academic instruction is provided up to standard six. Vocational 
training is given in knitting, cane and sisal work, and weaving. An im- 
portant achievement of the School is the successful performance of the 
school choir in competition with sighted schools in the vicinity. 

The number of pupils has increased to 135. Of them nearly half are 
partially sighted. The latter receive the form of education which is sui- 
table for them. The School devotes much attention to sport, especially 
to track events. 

Vuleka School for Blind and Deaf Zulu Children. 

Vuleka (the Zulu word for "open up") is a Mission School of the 
Dutch Reformed Chruch in Natal. It is a primary school with depart- 



422 



ments f or the deaf and the bhnd and it is subsidised by the Department 
of Education and Culture of KwaZulu. It is a boarding school for Zulu 
children from the whole of the Republic of South Africa. Children bet- 
ween the ages of six and fourteen years are admitted and are allowed to 
stay at Vuleka until they are eighteen years of age. At present there are 
70 blind and 230 deaf pupils on the roll. 

The School which is situated among the hills of KwaZulu, was estab- 
lished in April 1962. The first Principal was Mr C. W. Malan, formerly 
from the Bosele School for the Blind in Lebowa. Mr I. A. Mok suc- 
ceeded Mr Malan in January 1976, and still occupies the post. 

The pupils are taught through the medium of braille in three langu- 
ages, namely Zulu, English and Afrikaans. The School's curriculum is 
similar to that of any other school under the control of the Department 
of Education and Culture. The standard 5 pupils write precisely the 
same examinations as their sighted colleagues. Standard 7 was intro- 
duced at the beginning of 1977 and standard 8 in 1978. With regard to 
music, the boys have started their own band, and make use of instru- 
ments donated by Prince Joseph Zulu.^' 

Crafts include articles made from cane, sisal and phormium. Weav- 
ing is done on a small scale, and the introduction of pottery is planned 
for the near future. The girls also do knitting. Extra-mural activities in- 
clude excursions, adapted athletics, games and social gatherings. 

In addition to the usual school and hostel staff, a qualified nurse was 
appointed in 1977. An after-care unit for the visually handicapped and 
the deaf is held in prospect. 

Having dealt with bodies which render services on a national level, 
and thereafter with the educational establishments, we now come to 
the third group, namely the rest of the affiliated societies. 

Johannesburg Society to Help Civilian Blind 

We have previously mentioned the committee formed under the lea- 
dership of Mrs G. K. Nowlan which led to the establishment of the So- 
ciety to Help Civilian Blind in Johannesburg in 1926. An office was 
opened to which homeworkers could bring their finished articles to be 
sold. It was realised, however, that the establishment of a workshop 
was essential, and in this connection Mrs Nowlan writes in the second 
biennial report of the National Council (1931-1932) as follows: 

"The year commencing September 1929 proved a momentous 
one in the annals of the Society, a shop and workshop being 



423 



taken at Braamfontein, and in this small way a nucleus of the first 
institution of its kind in South Africa was formed, the first year's 
rent being paid by a generous sympathiser." 
This "institution" was later named the "Institute for Blind Work- 
ers". It was sometimes confused with the Society, and in old docu- 
ments of the Council it was often referred to as being the Society itself 
It was really a section of the Society. It was also sometimes called the 
Johannesburg Institute for Blind Workers (J.I.B.).^^ those days it 
was compulsory for all Transvaal welfare bodies to register under the 
Charitable Institutions (Control) Ordinance, 1926, of the Province of 
Transvaal. The certificate of registration, dated 4 March 1929, indi- 
cates the name